Superintendent: Washington Co. mask requirement, set for review Thursday, ‘certainly has been helpful’

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JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – Washington County, Tennessee’s school board is set to review a mask requirement Thursday that’s been in place for just over a month. Superintendent Jerry Boyd said the requirement has been part of a “layered approach” that’s helped drive down COVID-19 cases and quarantines in the 8,200-student system.

“I believe looking at all the layers that we’ve put in place, it’s just one more step in trying to ensure that we protect students, we protect our employees, any visitors in the building, and we also continue to focus on trying to keep students in school,” Jerry Boyd told News Channel 11 Monday.

The board put the requirement in place Aug. 19, a little over a week before the schools shut down entirely for 10 days. At that point, about 18% of the student body was quarantined due to exposure or isolated for a positive case.

“The whole purpose of having a revisit date was let’s put this in place and let’s look at the information, the data we have and then make a decision for the next however many weeks they decide to before they revisit it (again),” Boyd said.

He said the data of the past several weeks has elements that concern him and others that make him feel much better about the day-to-day within the schools than he did at the end of August.

“It’s pretty clear we’ve reduced the number of students with active COVID cases,” Boyd said. He said some of that could be due to the delta variant wave’s natural progression.

But he attributed much of it to additional mitigation measures that also include more “cohorting” of students to reduce unnecessary mingling (which can drive up quarantine numbers), social distancing where possible and a mask mandate without opt-out for employees.

“I do believe the numbers kind of speak for themselves in terms of the decrease in the number of positive cases, which ultimately also drives the decrease in the number of exclusions, whether they’re in quarantine or they’ve been isolated because they have COVID,” Boyd said.

Washington County Schools had 365 students and 20 staff in quarantine Monday and 53 active student cases, as well as 17 active staff cases.

Boyd said regardless of what’s happening inside the schools during the day, his team also has to consider spread in the community.

Washington County’s seven-day COVID test positivity percentage is 18.5 — more than three times the desired highest level. Its seven-day community spread rate of 443 cases per 100,000 population is more than four times the threshold for the CDC’s red zone.

“The trend in the region is still very concerning,” Boyd said.

“We’ll look very closely at our data within our school, but we have to pay attention to our local or regional data as well because children don’t spend all of their time in school,” Boyd said. “We have to be very aware of the trends in our region, and that’ll be a factor in the decision I’m sure.”

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