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The Plan – Mask Optional early in the New Year!

TOM LILLY – OCS President

I am thankful this Thanksgiving for all of you who continue to support the actions and decisions of the Owensboro Catholic School System. We somehow manage to spend a lot more time on the things that unite our educational system than in our places of disagreement. It’s a witness to a faith being lived out in community. Disagreeing is a necessary part of every authentic relationship. But how we disagree reflects something much deeper about our understanding of faith and the value we place on others and their opinions.

Even though the current pandemic has become a source of political and religious division for many, our Catholic school community seems to respect and support decisions around the precautions we are taking to prevent the transmission of the Delta variant. We have even been given grace on some issues where mistakes were made. We apologize, and hopefully we learned from them.

While there is no total agreement on the best way to proceed, and as bad as we all hate masks, OCS has decided to continue masking indoors through Christmas. It is our hope that we can go to “mask optional” early in January. But these are always very complicated issues. As a health care official told me today, “many people haven’t had the devastating impact on their family, or they haven’t been behind the scenes when the health care system was overwhelmed.”

This is the data still driving the universal masking decision:

· Physicians who deal with COVID patients tell me that at least 80% of them still support universal masking through Christmas in our schools. When we get sick, we go to physicians and follow their guidance. That’s what we’re doing.

· The hospitalization rates were dramatically decreasing a few weeks ago. However, the current Incidence Rate for COVID in Daviess County has grown from 24% to 46% over the last few weeks and the hospitalization rates are also now trending up. Health care officials “hope” that the increase in Incidence Rates cases doesn’t parallel the past trends of hospital admissions and ICU Covid occupancy rates. What’s hopeful is that vaccinated people and children getting COVID will not need hospitalization. But the data won’t become clearer for two or three more weeks.

· While most counties across Kentucky were under the 25% Incidence Rate just two weeks ago, most have now returned to red (25% or higher Incidence Rates).

· We are seeing limited mask option success rates in some states, but we are also seeing school districts who went mask optional, only to return to universal masking indoors because of how it impacted their local health care community’s ability to handle the surges.

· Local pediatricians are seeing an increase in post COVID myocarditis, but it is also rare and there are some studies that suggest it will not present a long-term impact. But there’s not enough data to substantiate that hope. Based on that information, we have parents who would like for their children to get through the vaccination process before the mask mandate is lifted. Some of these children have compromised immune systems. January gives everyone plenty of time to get through the two shot vaccination process.

I can honestly say that we are working under an incredible spirit of cooperation in our community. We are currently hearing from a number of parents on both sides of this debate. There has been very little hostility this year. Our teachers, students and staff are on the front line of sacrifice and their efforts are nothing short of heroic.

And so we are thankful. We appreciate all of those serving on the front lines of education AND health care, and we appreciate all of you who are supporting our best efforts and decisions to keep our children in school during a world-wide pandemic.