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Allen County Health Commissioner Talks Changes to Schools Masking Policies

FILE: Allen County Health Department

School districts in Allen County have been trying to figure out how to keep students in school and learning during the surge COVID-19. School boards have announced decisions on masks and quarantines and the policies differ from one district to the next.


Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Matthew Sutter discussed how these disparate policies affect attempts to contain the virus.


With these school boards making decisions about masks -- Fort Wayne Community Schools and Northwest Allen County Schools are both requiring masks, while Southwest Allen County Schools and East Allen County Schools have decided to remain optional -- how does that affect your plan for keeping kids safe?

You know, I think we all recognize that it’s important to keep kids in school, if we can. And there isn’t a single intervention that keeps kids safe when you’re gathering indoors in classrooms. It’s a multi-layered strategy. The first layer of that is vaccines, trying to get more and more kids vaccinated. The second is masking. And then, the third is really quarantine and contract tracing. That’s the way that, when there is infection brought into the schools, that we can attempt to contain that. 

If you put all three of those together, I think it’s possible to have in-person schools, but when you start taking away pieces of that strategy, it becomes a lot less effective.

Allen County Health Commissioner, Dr. Matthew Sutter, speaks at a press conference about Allen County's vaccine clinic at the Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday, January 12, 2021.

I’ve been covering school board meetings and their updates on COVID-19. FWCS seems to be doing relatively well at keeping kids in school. But are we seeing a surge in districts that aren’t requiring masks or is it kind of steady throughout all the districts?

There is a lot of COVID-19 and quarantines in all the schools. It’s a little early to see what’s happening in the places where it’s not masking. [NACS], when they were paying very close attention to this in the first couple weeks, did feel that there was spread going on in the classroom. 

When kids are gathering indoors without masks for long periods of time, they spread respiratory viruses. So, we expect that will likely happen if there’s not mask mandates in place.

Is there anything you’ve been telling districts to help them if parents are concerned or angry about masks?

There’s been a very vocal group that says we should not be masking, we should not be taking vaccines. It’s my opinion that they’re a minority, but a very loud minority. 

But I think what some of the other school boards are seeing now, is that there is a very large group of parents who have been silent up until now, but are very unhappy with the decision not to require masking. 

We just have to navigate this as a community.

Ella Abbott is a multimedia reporter for 89.1 WBOI. She is a strong believer in the ways audio storytelling can engage an audience and create a sensory experience.
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