With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Athens, Clarke County school officials are encouraging students to wear masks, but are not making it a mandate.
On Thursday, Clarke County School District officials wrote to parents that they “strongly encourage” masks when social distancing is not possible and that masks will be provided on campuses.
Though the new school year starts Aug. 4, the district will not follow the lead of local government and require masks. This decision falls in line with the Unmask Georgia Students Act, which was introduced in early 2022 and signed into law in late March. It allows parents to opt-out of mask mandates.
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The law says that the only way a school district can have a mask mandate is if there is the “opt out” option.
Away from school campuses, a spike in cases in the Athens area has led to renewed enforcement of Athens’ indoor mask mandate. This comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention marked Athens-Clarke as “high” for new COVID-19 cases.
A pre-existing ordinance in the county is now in effect, one that that requires masks in public spaces and private businesses, with some limited exceptions, regardless of vaccination status.
The school system has a “district dashboard” that is updated hourly and shows COVID-19 cases broken down by school. As of Friday, all schools were listed as under 10 cases.
Also this week, school officials reminded parents they will continue to offer free COVID tests and vaccinations. Children ages 5-14 have a higher vaccination rate than the overall state, while the 14- to19-year-old age group is significantly below the state average.
In Georgia, the vaccination rate for that high school age group is at 56%. In Athens, it is at 28%.
A school-aged surveillance report from the Georgia Department of Public Health and dated for Thursday shows that for the 5- to 17-year-old age group cases are increasing. This is following the trend that cases in general are increasing in the county.
The most recent July 21 report showed that over the last 14 days, 33 cases in that age group were reported. However, due to home tests or non-testing, this number is low. Because of this, hospital systems such as Piedmont use a multiplication factor of eight to 10 times to estimate the true number of cases.