Masks now required in schools, daycares and preschools, SCHD says

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After a rise in pediatric COVID cases, the Shelby County Health Department is changing its most recent health directive to call for universal masking in schools, preschools, and daycares.

The includes teachers, staff, students, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.

The health directive is effective until Aug. 31.

“The amended health order is in alignment with recently released guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends that all persons, including those who are fully vaccinated, wear masks in indoor public settings in areas such Shelby County where COVID-19 transmission is high,” the release said.

Recent data, according to the Shelby County Health Department, shows more than one-quarter of the currently active cases are among those 17 and younger.

“The amended Health Order No. 24 was issued after conversations with a variety of school leaders in both private and public school districts within Shelby County. The consensus among school leadership indicated that universal masking would be acceptable as an additional prevention tool, part of a multi-layered approach to combat COVID-19,” the release said.

The decision comes on the heels of hundreds of students being quarantined in Marion, Arkansas.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris released the following statement on the new health directive:

FOX13 spoke with some parents who were for this move and others who were against it.

“I’m kind of shocked right now because this is the first I’ve heard of it. I was all excited she wouldn’t have to do the masks this year,” said Eric Bender.

Eric Bender’s daughter is an eighth-grader at St. Louis Catholic School in East Memphis. He says he is disappointed his daughter has to mask up for school.

“The mask is always something they have to deal with. The teacher is always talking to them about it. And I hear it’s coming, but my opinion, it’s a little blown out of proportion,” said Bender.

William Elam said he approves of the move, as long as his six-year-old son’s safety is the school’s top priority.

“I feel pretty good about it,” he said. “We will send them on this year and try to make sure we have the best, safest and healthiest year we can.”

The health department cited rising COVID cases, hospitalizations, and even deaths in children as the motive behind the health directive.

“Our districts within the Shelby County area both Memphis as well as municipalities have put out statements that they will follow the directive of the local health department,” said Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn.

FOX13 reached out to all six municipalities in the county. Three school districts in Lakeland, Arlington, Millington, Germantown, and Bartlett that were once mask-optional responded, saying they will follow the health department’s guidance.

“They’re doing the best they can,” said William.

According to the health department, kids in Shelby County make up 25% of all COVID cases, but only 17% of children eligible for the vaccine have received it.

“We don’t have any evidence that it makes people sicker. We don’t have evidence that it preferentially infects kids, but what we do know is that it affects unvaccinated people more,” said Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercy,

And the largest group of unvaccinated people are kids, contributing to the spike in pediatric hospitalizations we are seeing, but the leading cause is other respiratory illnesses, according to the Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercy.

“Children’s hospitals started filling up two weeks earlier with RSV as well as other respiratory illnesses like influenza and other things we don’t typically see in the summer like trauma,” said Piercy.

We’re told a staff shortage is also an issue. The state said they plan on publishing inpatient and ICU curves for children, breaking down cases among children weekly rather than monthly. So, parents and districts can make the best decisions for their kids.

According to health leaders, data shows that kids make up 25% of COVID cases, and those statistics are expected to rise. This health directive is set to last through the end of the month.