SEATTLE — With the return to classrooms just weeks away, Washington’s goal of in-person instruction looms as well. But the surging delta variant of the coronavirus is complicating the situation, and prompting solidifying state officials to increase and solidify safety measures.
Wednesday, Governor Jay Inslee announced indoor masking will be required for all K-12 students and staff, regardless of vaccination status. The CDC previously said vaccinated people would not need to mask during the school day, a position it reversed in a Tuesday press conference.
Washington was already planning to require masks, but officials had indicated it was possible that would be relaxed. Inslee said surging cases and lagging vaccination rates means that will not be possible for the foreseeable future, especially with kids under 12 still ineligible for vaccination.
Dawn Adams is a mother of three Seattle Public School students, and wants everything possible done to get and keep kids in the classroom after last year.
“We survived,” she said. “I don’t know. I’m just happy it’s done.”
“I have three kids with ADHD, and being on screen that long, especially for our two second graders, was just insane. And with two working parents trying to do our jobs also here, but also managing screen time,” she added.
She described the mental health impacts on her children too, and watching their demeanor quickly improve when SPS resumed some in-person options last spring, at the state’s demand.
Research has shown in-person learning has major benefits for kids. Doctors have described a mental health crisis among isolated young people, and summer schools are busy with a surge of students who fell behind during the difficult conditions of the pandemic.
Gov. Inslee stressed that community efforts will help keep schools open come fall: remaining adults must still get vaccinated, and indoor masking per the new state recommendation will protect kids. Washington recommended indoor masking statewide Wednesday, though it is not a legal requirement like the schools guidance.
“Even if you don’t care about your own health, how about caring about the kids who can’t get the vaccine right now, because they’re not eligible,” Inslee said. “Maybe care about those kids a little bit, get a vaccine for them. Maybe get it for some people who are immunocompromised and can’t get the vaccine, and are subject to this deadly disease.”
Inslee added, COVID vaccines could someday be required in schools like other childhood vaccines, though that's not being mandated yet.
Dawn supports the mask requirement for school buildings because she can’t imagine more remote learning.
“I think the main thing is to try to keep everybody as safe as possible and try to keep the kids in school for you know, learning and for mental health issues,” she said.
“We managed a year, we’re still intact, but I can’t do another one,” she added.