A look at Fairbanks District masking policies for a new school year

Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 4:41 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The school year is about to begin in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, while a new variant of COVID-19 is on the rise throughout Alaska.

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska Chief Medical Officer told us “Something that’s really changed this year is the delta variant. We were really hoping to start school this year with less cases and not being where we’re at, but the virus changed, and so we’ve continue to learn as much as we can about it and respond the best we can to the variant that’s here. Currently the delta variant is the most prominent variant here in Alaska.”

The Delta variant is far more contagious, spreading on average to 5 to 8 unprotected persons, as opposed to the 2 to 3 person average spread of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The school district is committed to keeping in-person education available as an option for this school year, and will not be requiring students to wear masks to attend. Karen Melin, FNSB School District Interim Superintendent explained, “For this new school year the masking policy is one of respect for families’ choice. It is an option that individuals and families get to make for themselves. There is nothing within the policy that would indicate that students can’t wear masks, in fact we’re really encouraging parents and families to have the discussion and talk about what’s best for them and for their students.”

Currently the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District School board has no plans to reassess their current masking policy.

Dr. Zink described the effectiveness of using masks in schools. “We saw last year consistently when kids are masked in school we saw very little transmission. The other thing is when kids are all appropriately masked, working on that distancing and wearing good multi layered masks, they don’t need to quarantine - and that is another game changer for staying in school.”

While vaccinations remain the first line of defense in the effort to prevent the further spread of the virus, Dr Zink said maintaining the practice of masking is still a highly important measure in keeping children safe as we move into this new school year. “Using layered mitigation techniques. If we don’t have a lot of COVID spreading we don’t need a lot. I kind of think of it like the rain. If it’s sprinkling, you might be just fine with a little light rain jacket, but if it’s pouring you might need more than a rain jacket, you might need to layer up - and unfortunately right now COVID’s kind of pouring. We got a lot of cases spreading quite quickly, and that’s why we’re asking people to layer up with their mitigation strategies.”

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