Marion County requiring masks for students 8 and older, recommends ‘hybrid’ approach for middle and high schools

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Director Dr. Virginia laid out their guidance for schools in Marion County.

Hogsett said students who attend class in person and are over the age of 8 must wear masks. A team from the Marion County Public Health Department will be dedicated to emergency testing for schools, with results back in 24 to 48 hours.

High-risk teachers, employees and students can opt out of in-person learning.

“Despite every effort, I understand concerns will remain,” Hogsett said.

“We will always act on the best available guidance from our public health experts,” he said, conceding that things will continue to change as we continue to learn more about the coronavirus.”

Hogsett conceded that the uncertainty was one of the worst impacts of the pandemic.

Caine said Marion County started seeing an increase in newly confirmed cases after the July 4 weekend. She said the positivity rate started to decline while the number of cases rose.

The biggest change: the demographics of those testing positive for COVID-19. In the early stages of the pandemic, the majority of cases were in people 40 and over.

Between June 22 and July 19, the majority of positive tests are being found in people between 20 and 39 years old. There has also been an increase in cases among school-age children.

People under 20 years old made up 1% of COVID-19 cases between March 30 and April 26. That number jumped to 11% from June 22 to July 19.

With that information in mind, Hogsett and Caine outlined a recommended “hybrid” approach for Marion County schools based on the positivity rate.

On Thursday, Dr. Caine said Marion County is in the “yellow” level. That means elementary schools can offer in-person instruction, as younger students make up fewer positive COVID-19 cases in the county. Middle and high school students on the other hand are recommended to take a hybrid approach that would put them in the classroom some days, while learning at home on other days.

Caine provided some examples of how the hybrid approach would work. One example would have kids in class Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while attending virtual lessons on Tuesday and Thursday.

Another approach would be to have students in class one week and then learning virtually the next. Dr. Caine said the key to the hybrid model is capping school building capacity at 50% in hopes of limiting contact and slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Here’s what is in Caine’s upcoming public health order, which goes into effect on Aug. 6:

  • Middle and high schools with less than 400 students may resume in-person classes if 6-foot social distancing can be achieved in classrooms, otherwise must be operated online or in a hybrid model.
  • Middle and high schools with greater than 400 students must be operated virtually or in a hybrid model.
  • K-5 schools may resume in-person classes.
  • Schools with K-5 and above in a single building that can maintain 6-foot distancing may resume in-person, otherwise grades 6 or higher must remain online or move to a hybrid model.
  • Masks must be worn by students in grades 3 and above at all times, except when eating and drinking. Students ages 3 and older must wear masks when indoors or not socially-distanced.
  • Schools conducting all in-person or hybrid classes must implement social distancing procedures, such as staggering passing periods, implementing permanent seating charts in classrooms, and organizing students in classroom cohorts.
  • Athletic teams are asked to follow current IHSAA guidelines, with further guidance expected in the coming weeks.

When asked why the health department didn’t make the recommendation sooner, Caine said the data will constantly change as she and others look for trends. She usually looks at about two weeks of information and compares it to previous datasets.

Caine said the numbers are going down in Marion County and believes the mask requirement has had an impact.

“Some of our positive interventions, you can see results within two weeks,” Caine said.

Asked about contact tracing, Caine said Marion County had a success rate of about 80%.

As for contact sports, Caine said schools should continue to follow IHSAA guidelines. However, she and others will look at the data over the next two or three weeks to make a final decision.

Students’ actions, she said, would determine whether sports will be played in the fall.

“It’s a very complicated aspect, but anyone that has lived in Indiana for a while knows how critical sports can be to our students in terms of their social and emotional wellbeing, in terms of their ability to get scholarships for further graduate study, so I’d love to be able to say I have a decision today, but I have to look at the numbers,” Caine said.

She said there have been discussions about restricting contact sports, adding that she wasn’t ready to make that decision yet.

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