Georgia public health agency issues new advice for school quarantines

210819-Marietta-People in favor of and against a mask mandate for Cobb County schools gather and protest ahead of the school board meeting Thursday evening, Aug. 19, 2021 in Marietta. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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210819-Marietta-People in favor of and against a mask mandate for Cobb County schools gather and protest ahead of the school board meeting Thursday evening, Aug. 19, 2021 in Marietta. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Georgia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey is recommending that students be required to wear masks when quarantining in school as a safety precaution to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Toomey made the recommendation in a letter to state superintendents Thursday. The advice comes two weeks after the agency issued an order allowing schools to establish their own quarantine rules for students exposed to the virus.

The Georgia Department of Public Health letter says there has been “some confusion” about infection protocols after Toomey’s Aug. 2 order allowing “flexibility” with local quarantine rules. The letter says the agency now “strongly recommends” that schools that are allowing students exposed to COVID-19 to quarantine in school require those students to wear a mask until their quarantine period ends.

“Regardless of your general masking recommendations, DPH strongly recommends that schools’ modified quarantine plans require masking during the time of quarantine to ensure the safety of children and staff in the schools and reduce the spread of COVID-19 that we have already seen in the schools statewide,” the letter says, adding that if masking is unacceptable, then “standard at-home” quarantines should be required.

Masks have proven controversial, with some claiming the science doesn’t support their use, while others point to studies cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indicate masks have helped to prevent infections.

Gov. Brian Kemp, who has refused to mandate masks, has been pressured to prohibit school rules that compel their use. Earlier this month, a state senator sent a letter to Kemp requesting a special legislative session to prohibit school mask mandates.

Parents for and against masks have been protesting in Cobb County, one of the few large metro Atlanta school districts that is not requiring them. In Cobb, students deemed to be close contacts to an infected person are allowed to attend school during their quarantine period, but district policy requires them to wear a mask for 10 days after exposure. Cobb County government reinstated its mask mandate effective Aug. 20 for all county facilities, but it does not pertain to the school system.

The Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics sent a letter to all of Georgia’s school superintendents last month urging that students be allowed to attend school in person, with precautions, such as universal mask-wearing and quarantines.