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To mask or not to mask? What to know to keep your child safe from COVID this school year

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - 7/31/2022

The 2022-23 school year is set to start amid a high COVID community spread risk in Tarrant County.

Tarrant County had over 610,000 total COVID cases on Friday. The rise in cases coincided with the spread of the omicron BA.5 strain in the United States, which started increasing in June.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BA.5 is now the dominant COVID strain in the country, making up about 81% of all COVID cases reported.

A second booster to fight the BA.5 variant is currently in the works, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Manufacturers have been advised to modify their COVID vaccines with an omicron BA.4 or BA.5 spike protein component to use as a booster starting early to mid fall of this year.

In May 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting government entities, which includes public school districts, from requiring or mandating face masks. However, an injunction was issued allowing school districts to require masks in September 2021 and a months-long legal battle followed.

In March, the Court of Appeals for the Second District of Texas allowed the Fort Worth ISD to require masks on campuses again if it sees fit.

As of Friday, school districts like Fort Worth ISD had not announced whether or not students should consider wearing masks as back to school swings into full gear.

Until a booster for BA.5 is available, here’s what health officials suggest to keep your student safe from COVID this school year.

Should my student wear a mask?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends anyone ages 2 and older to wear a mask in indoor, public spaces where there is high community spread, such as Tarrant County.

Masking helps prevent the spread of COVID and any mask is better than no mask, according to the CDC. Cloth, procedure and respirator masks should be well-fitting and be worn correctly, covering the mouth and nose.

The CDC offers free N95 respirator masks at select pharmacy locations, including CVS. To find a location offering free masks, visit the mask locator on the CDC website.

Other ways to stay safe is to keep a distance of 6 feet away from others and to avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.

Last year, Fort Worth ISD school I.M. Terrell Academy received a COVID killing air filtration system. However, some experts were skeptical on whether the systems would prove effective.

Where can I get my student tested for COVID?

Free COVID testing is available at Tarrant County clinics. Check the Tarrant County Public Health website to find a location near you.

There are also testing locations available for Fort Worth ISD students available on certain weekdays. Check their Goodside Health webpage for locations, times and to register ahead of testing.

Will school districts continue reporting COVID cases?

Texas public schools are required to report positive COVID cases to the state’s Department of State Health Services.

Some Tarrant County school districts have a COVID dashboard to track positive cases on their campuses.

The county also has a way to submit a new or suspected COVID case on their school tracking website.

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