EDMONDS, Wash — With the new school year underway in Washington, students are adapting, once again, to changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
At last report, the Edmonds School Districted said not even half of its 12 to 17-year-old students were vaccinated against the virus. As a result, the district has pushed its mask rules even farther than the state's guidelines and is requiring students to wear masks inside classrooms and outdoors, as well. The rule also applies during recess.
But the district has also implemented what it calls "mask breaks" for students if they need them throughout the day.
"We know that COVID is gonna happen in our school environment. We're not a COVID free environment," said Mara Marano-Bianco, who heads the district's COVID-19 response. "What we have to do is figure out how we're going to respond to cases that we do receive. We have seen a number of cases within our environment."
The district saw at least 12 positive COVID-19 cases in the first two weeks of school, according to officials.
"Children and students are social creatures," said Marano-Bianco. "They are going to gather. We just want to utilize our mitigating factors as best as possible, masking being one of the primary mitigating factors in this process."
Edmonds School District administrators made the decision to require masks, even outdoors, despite guidance from the Washington Department of Health that said masks are "not required outdoors."
There is also evidence that shows the virus doesn't spread as easily outside. Some parents are now wondering how much masking is too much?
The district hopes the "mask breaks" will offer some relief for students. Students can take off their masks for a few minutes as long as they're supervised, staying six feet apart and not near a doorway, officials said.
Administrators acknowledged that some parents might not like the stricter policy, but said they believe maximizing masking will minimize school closures due to COVID-19.
"What we need to do is make our schools as safe as possible so students can continue to be in schools in some capacity," said Marano-Bianco.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story said school district administrators were going to use every possible opportunity to hold classes outdoors where students could remove masks as long as they were six feet apart. The district has since issued a correction to their statement and said that students will always be required to wear masks outside during class and at recess. The only time students could be without a mask outside is during lunch or a "mask break" with proper social distancing and supervision.