Following BCPH and our local school districts, BVWS will be going mask-optional when we return from break on February 28th. In the process of reaching this decision, the leadership of the school has reviewed community input, the latest safety data, and the Board of Health reasoning in lifting their mandate. The decision is based on the current situation (explained in detail below). If the pandemic were to take an unexpected turn in the future, we would, of course, be open to reevaluating in light of new data.
On Monday we asked for family input. Approximately 70% of the recipients opened the message, and of those, 25% took the extra step to send in input. Responses varied in length from three words to multiple paragraphs. We compiled responses and shared them with everyone in the decision-making process. Of the responses, about 80% of parents supported ending the mask mandate, and 20% of parents supported continuing the mask mandate. We recognize that this is not a voting process, and the decision was not made simply on these numbers. But your input was very helpful in allowing us to get a sense, however imperfect, of what is living among the parent body right now. We were also very impressed with the thoughtfulness and trust that so many of you expressed in your responses.
What to Expect
When school resumes Monday, February 28th, masks will be optional in all BVWS classrooms, from preschool to 8th grade, as well as in the office and other buildings. In similar school communities that have ended mask mandates, typically around 10% of the students and teachers will choose to continue to wear a mask. BVWS wants to encourage anyone who chooses to wear a mask to do so. Masks are still recommended by the CDC and BCPH in school settings. Students and teachers who wear a mask, whether regularly or just occasionally, should be completely comfortable doing so. Our teachers have been instructed not to tolerate any sort of mask shaming or unkindness towards those who wear a mask. And we would like to ask our parent community to help support this messaging.
Factors in the Decision
For those interested in how we reached this decision, in addition to the community input the following pieces of information factored into the BVWS decision.
- Recent decisions by the experts at the Boulder County Board of Health for our local community.
- In the past two weeks there has been a more than 10x decrease in the number of cases in the community. Case rates declined from a high of well over 2,000 per 100,000 of population per day in late January, to a current rate of just under 200 per 100,000.
- The decline in cases is projected to continue. Between vaccination and prior infection, there are just not many people left to infect in Boulder County.
- Masking is only one layer of mitigation at BVWS. We will continue with the layers of other mitigation measures, including outdoor time, enhanced ventilation, upgraded air filters, air purifiers in rooms, requiring students with Covid symptoms to stay home, following Return to Learn for previously ill students, quarantines for unvaccinated students exposed outside of school, and rapid testing.
- Vaccines are widely available for anyone aged 5 or older who desire one. Children under age 5 are at low risk of even moderate illness if they do get Covid. Younger children also acquire and transmit the virus far less readily than older population groups.
- Vaccination is highly effective in preventing severe illness or death. When vaccinated individuals under age 70 do catch Covid, it almost always results in, at worst, mild flu-like symptoms. Unvaccinated children under age 5 are likewise unlikely to experience more than moderate symptoms.
- When the City of Denver ended their mask mandate for schools two weeks ago, they saw no increase in case rates or transmission in schools. Instead, the declines in cases continued, and the declines in schools matched the decline in the broader community.
- Other countries (mainly in Europe) have never had mask mandates in schools, and in the course of the pandemic have not seen transmission in school settings to be any higher than in the population as a whole. Indeed, most studies showed lower in-school transmission despite not having masks. Generally, students don’t transmit the virus as readily as adults.
- The protections from non-medical-grade masks are weak. They are significant enough that when facing a novel pandemic with severe outcomes, universal masking makes a noticeable difference. But non-medical masks are not magic talismans, and when the virus is less present, when vaccination is widely available, and when treatment protocols are refined, universal masking makes less sense as social policy. A 5% or 10% decrease in overall transmission in our current context balances differently against the downsides than it did earlier in the pandemic.
- Conversely, medical-grade N95 masks are now readily available for those with health issues, or those who need to protect a family member. N95 masks are what doctors and nurses in medical wards use when they have to interact with critically ill Covid patients. They offer very strong protection to the wearer when properly fitted. The school is well stocked with N95s, and we are happy to give them to any student or family who asks.
Considering all of these factors, together with community input, and factoring in the decisions of the experts at the Boulder County Board of Health, we feel that making masking optional at BVWS is the right decision for our school community at this time.
As always, please feel free to reach out with your questions and concerns,