KINGSLAND, Ga. – As Camden County students head back to school on Monday, they will need to bring a mask.
After learning from state health officials that the number of COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalizations is higher now than at the pandemic’s two previous peaks last summer and winner, the school district announced Monday that all students, teachers and staff will be required to wear a mask or face covering this fall when schools open. The rule applies in schools, offices and administration buildings.
“This news may be sobering but it is the reality that we are facing in Camden. We believe we are beginning a great new school year, but we are once again faced with challenges we must overcome to serve our students and to support each other,” the district wrote in its safe opening plan. “As a school system, we are going to do everything in our power to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in our community and prepare our schools to safely reopen on August 2nd.”
The district’s reopening plan also says there won’t be any large assemblies or gatherings until further notice.
Coastal Health District Director Lawton Davis said that 50 people with COVID are hospitalized Monday in either the Camden or Brunswick campuses and that 86% of their intensive care beds were full. That’s higher than the state’s rate of 80%.
According to the Georgia Department of Health, only 28% of residents of Camden County are fully vaccinated -- well below the state average.
‘At the moment the physical health of our students and teachers and faculty and staff should be our primary concern,” Davis said. “We’re really just a few days past exactly three weeks from the July 4 weekend. That is the prime time to see a surge from what we would call a super-spreader event, which July 4 weekend certainly could be.”
Parent Carrie Gosset said her three children are anxious about returning to the classroom on Monday after going virtual last year.
“I feel that we wouldn’t be having this problem now if we were still wearing masks from the beginning last year,” Gossett said.
Gossett said she’s had a relative die from COVID and applauds Camden Schools’ decision to require masks.
“He worked for the school system where he lives and he was exposed via the school, working when they remove the masks and he was exposed and contracted COVID,” she said. “He was 50 years old.”
The district said its masking and other requirements are subject to change based on current guidance of the state Department of Education, Department of Public Health and the office of the governor. It will be reevaluated as the transmission rate for Camden County decreases to below 200. (As of July 22, the community transmission rate in Camden County was 788).
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance and suggest that all students, teachers and staff wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. That comes less than a week after the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that students return to school in-person learning this fall as long as everyone two and older wears a mask.
Later Tuesday, Georgia’s largest school district, Gwinnett County in suburban Atlanta, also announced it will require students and employees to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, as COVID-19 cases continued to skyrocket across the state.
“The facts and recommendations are clear,” Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks said in a statement. “Masks do make a difference and we must do all we can to keep students in school, in person.”