After less than 2 weeks with mask mandate, Warren County public schools cuts quarantines

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Less than two weeks after Warren County Public Schools implemented universal masking in its schools, student quarantines have dropped to 834 from more than 1,700, Superintendent Rob Clayton told local media Tuesday.

As many as 100 district staff members are currently quarantining and monitoring for symptoms after exposure to COVID-19. Speaking during a news conference at the district’s central office, Clayton said none of those staff members were exposed due to school contacts.

Warren County Public Schools opted to start the school year with masks as a recommendation rather than a requirement. During the first few days of the school year, quarantines ballooned to 700 and then to more than 1,700 students.

That prompted Clayton to implement a mask mandate in the district’s schools, which was then superseded by Gov. Andy Beshear’s own mask mandate Aug. 10.

“Since the mask mandate was required 10 days ago, we’ve seen our quarantines drop by 50%,” Clayton said.

Clayton said the district is also seeing a drop in COVID-19 cases among students, which on Tuesday totaled at least 248 cases, according to the district’s online dashboard. At least 25 district employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Because of reduced risk of exposure, Kentucky Department for Public Health guidance exempts students from quarantining if “students who were at least 3 feet away from an infected student (and) if both students were engaged in consistent and correct use of masks and other K-12 prevention strategies were in place.”

Still, when asked by a reporter about whether the district will report student and staff quarantines via its online dashboard, Clayton said WCPS will continue not to do so.

“We do not publicly disclose the quarantine numbers on our dashboard,” Clayton said. “The primary reason is because we feel like it creates some confusion. … We don’t want to incite fear. We don’t want to increase the anxiety that’s already there.”

During a news conference last week, Beshear said “there is a duty to do that. ... If you have a lot of COVID in your schools, please be transparent.”

“In 18 months, I’ve yet to have any individual tell me what conclusion, what judgment, you can draw based on the number of quarantines in an organization,” Clayton said last week, responding to the governor’s comments.

School districts aren’t currently required to report quarantines, but there’s nothing stopping them from doing so. Other school districts in the region, such as the Bowling Green Independent School District, make their quarantine totals available on the district’s online dashboard.

As of Monday, BGISD had 208 quarantines between school or household close contacts. It reported 82 active student COVID-19 cases and 13 active employee cases.

Asked by the Daily News if the district will require students and staff to get the coronavirus vaccine after it won full Food and Drug Administration approval on Monday, Clayton said the district’s leadership has not had those conversations.

“We’ve not entertained any discussions about requiring the vaccine,” Clayton said.

He added that about 60% of the school district’s staff are vaccinated.

Asked by a reporter at the news conference if there is a particular threshold the district would have to cross before moving to virtual instruction, Clayton pointed to factors like staff availability, local hospital capacity and other local conditions.

Staff in the district “have been pushed to the brink,” Clayton said.

The district has had trouble finding bus drivers to fill vacancies amid the pandemic, even resorting to offering sign-on bonuses to entice new drivers.

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