More schools issue mask mandates as cases increase & new variant emerges

NOW: More schools issue mask mandates as cases increase & new variant emerges

BUCHANAN, Mich. -- With the Omicron variant now being detected in North America, health experts say we will likely start seeing cases here in the U.S. sooner than later.

It creates added obstacles for areas where community transmission has already become overwhelming, like schools.

Buchanan Community Schools made a mask mandate effective Monday for their Pre-K through 7th graders, citing the rise of quarantines creating too many hurdles in the learning experience for both students and teachers. 

“There were 128 students in quarantine prior to Thanksgiving recess,” said Superintendent Patricia Robinson.   

Superintendent Robinson has the authority to make that call under the district’s Return to Learn plan. 

“You might have five cases in a school and that would be okay for the next 10 days, we can manage that, when you have a school with 60 kids it becomes more difficult and overwhelming,” said Robinson.

While numbers for 8th through 12th graders, who are in a separate building, haven’t had the same spike as with those younger kids, students are still among the highest concern with health officials, as that’s where community transmission is most prevalent.

“It’s part of the reason we still urge those in school to enact mask requirements, even if you’re low risk, it’ll decrease the risk you’ll come down with COVID,” said Dr. Rex Cabaltica, Medical Director at the Berrien County Health Department.

Dr. Calbaltica said it’s too early for a good grasp on how contagious Omicron is, or how effective the vaccine will be against it, but there is some good news. 

“It actually doesn’t seem to be leading to more hospitalizations,” he said. “If Omicron is as mild as it is, we’ll know in a couple of weeks.”

The Berrien County Health Department did note that because Omicron has initially shown itself as a milder variant, people could mistake it for the common cold which could lead to it being spread more easily.

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