LPS students accounted for 14% of coronavirus cases: The return to normalcy in the classrooms that many had been waiting for this fall was another step forward on Tuesday.
Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department has issued a new county mask order requiring masks for staff, students and visitors to Lincoln Public Schools, regardless of vaccine status, from Wednesday.
The Department of Health’s new health measure, effective Thursday, requires people 2 and older – regardless of vaccine status – to wear masks in areas where social distance is not complied with.
When LPS started school last week, only masks were needed from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade and the staff who work with them.
Now, for the fourth time since the school closed last May, LPS is revising its back-to-school plan due to the spread of a more contagious delta variant of COVID-19, which is taxed at local hospitals.
The effects of the Delta variant are surprisingly clear at LPS, where 110 LPS students accounted for 14% of county cases last week and 723 students were in custody. This is compared to last December’s peak when the number of students in the county cases was only 5%.
Masks are also required for indoor LPS athletic exercises and at events and buses.
Hours after the health ministry made the announcement, spokesmen for the movement rallied at a Lincoln Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, overtaking rivals.
“It’s really about protecting children, protecting staff, protecting our community and our health care system,” said Kevin Richmoth, a pulmonologist at Bryan Health, one of the many physicians who spoke Tuesday. “I hate this mask, I really do. … but it’s really the most effective way to vaccinate enough people to protect (students).”
John Rehm, an LPS parent who is married to a teacher, supports the masks by saying he will protect his youngest son and his friends and classmates. He urged the board to go further by making Kovid vaccines mandatory.
“I think there is a low vocal majority in this community that supports these public health measures,” Rehm said.
Board member Steve Joel told board members Lincoln could become a leader in Nebraska by pushing back the Delta variant. Like most people, he also wishes you a very normal academic year, but it is important not to interrupt learning in person.
“No one expected him to be here,” Joel said, adding that he meets regularly with local health department leaders. “Our goal is to remove face masks from children and teachers and to return to a normal level of learning.”
Bob Rouner, a board member, said it was emotional to talk about his own experiences as a doctor, and local hospitals were under pressure.
Since hospitalization is usually two to three weeks behind the rising cases, more surges can also occur. Rouner also referred to pediatric wards in states such as Florida and Mississippi that were overcrowded.
“We do not want this to happen in Lincoln, Nebraska,” he said.
Board member Dan Mayhew announced that he, Rouner, and Barb Boyer have a new board committee to provide feedback to LPS officers on pandemic protocols. The committee met on Monday and will continue to move forward, Mayhew said.
Jack Anderson, a sophomore at Lincoln Southwest High School, said he did not fight to wear a mask, but questioned the intent of the order.
“The need for masks does not help with vaccination,” Anderson said, adding that he knew the vaccinated peers so they did not have to wear masks.
Previous guidelines from the Department of Health stated that schools require children aged 2-11 years to wear masks indoors, but it is unclear whether that guidance is legally binding.
Matthew Hecker, chief administrative officer of the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln Schools, said the directive, unlike previous guidance, had legal force. He said the diocese was reviewing the new measure – for schools and their parishes.
Previously, the diocese allowed parents aged 3-11 years to opt-out through masks if they needed masks. Those exemptions are no longer valid under DHM, Hecker said.
Lincoln Christian Superintendent Jack Cossabam said the school would review the order, but is still seeking answers from the Department of Health.
“I believe it is very important to answer key questions regarding the implementation of this mandate in relation to health exemptions and religious exemptions,” Cossabam told the Star in a statement.
Lincoln Lutheran will need students and staff masks from Thursday, Executive Director Scott Ernst Meyer said.
A public school district in Lancaster County – Malcolm – had previously chosen to make masks optional under previous guidance, but school officials said they would adhere to the DHM if issued by health officials.
The order is valid until September 30.