Mask requirement continues for students, teachers at Houston ISD schools
HOUSTON - COVID-19 cases continue to drop across the Houston area. In mid-January, the Texas Medical Center reported more than 17,000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day. Most recently that number was around 3,500 new cases.
"While the numbers are moving in the right direction, they’re still very big," said Houston Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Persse. "Hospitals still have a lot of patients in there, we’re reporting deaths every day."
In addition to a decrease in the number of new daily cases, the positivity rate has also dropped since January. At one point, the COVID-19 positivity rate in January for Harris County was around 37%. In comparison, the positivity rate is now 21%.
"[The Omicron variant] causes less death by percentages, but on the other hand, it infects way more people," said Dr. Persse. "So, we end up with a lot more people really, really sick."
As COVID cases drop across the country, many states are slowly rolling back their mask requirements. New York, California, Oregon, Connecticut, New Jersey, and others, have recently announced changes to their mask mandates.
"We continue to recommend masking, in areas of high and substantial transmission," said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control.
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On Wednesday, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) announced they will continue requiring students and teachers to wear masks.
"My concern right now is with all of these states and schools considering lifting mask requirements, we’ll see the rebound like we have seen so many times before," said Dr. Persse.
"I worry if we perpetuate the mandatory mask wearing for much longer, we’re going to blunt the student development in terms of their social and emotional awareness," said Christopher Williams, a teacher for HISD.
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Williams is a high school teacher in Houston. He says he disagrees with the district’s decision on mandatory masks, because students and teachers all have access to COVID-19 vaccines. According to Williams, the masks are negatively impacting students mentally and emotionally.
"Our school recently did a survey that said roughly half of the students didn’t feel a sense of belonging on campus," said Williams. "It’s time to lift the mandates. We’re seeing more evidence that there are some significant mental health consequences to consistent masking."