By Bobby Mathews, sports editor
BIRMINGHAM — Jefferson County health officer Dr. Mark Wilson met virtually with public and private school leaders in the county on Tuesday, August 3, 2021, urging them to follow the guidance issued by the Alabama Department of Health. Those guidelines include the masking of students, teachers, and administrators in classrooms and offices.
“Unfortunately, we are about to start a new school year in a major surge of COVID-19, almost entirely from the highly contagious delta variant,” Wilson said in a statement released following that meeting. “We are currently in an area of high transmission and at risk of outbreaks in our schools. Inpatient pediatricians here and in other high transmission areas of the country are starting to see more children with COVID-19 requiring hospitalization than with previous variants. Some of these children do not have underlying health conditions.”
While Wilson advised education leaders to rely on the latest guidance from ADPH, he stopped short of mandating masks.
“Regarding public schools, the state school superintendent has made statements indicating that he is deferring to local school systems to determine their own mask policy,” Wilson said. “On July 30, State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) updated comprehensive statewide back-to-school recommendations and guidance for K-12 school systems.”
Because the Delta variant continues to climb, Wilson said both state and local health officials would continue to closely monitor the situation.
“At this time, I believe the local school boards and authorities are in the best position to both develop and enforce their own policies on these issues,” Wilson said. “As the school year progresses, we will be monitoring the situation in the schools closely and working with you and state health and education officials to respond with the information and guidance you need to make your schools as safe and healthy as possible.”
Following the meeting with educators, Wilson also met virtually with Jefferson County elected officials, including county commissioners, mayors, and state legislators, briefing them on Jefferson County’s current COVID-19 situation.
So far, there have been a total of 595,816 COVID-19 cases in Alabama over the course of 2020 and 2021, with 11,561 deaths from the virus or complications from it. Bullock and Choctaw counties are the only counties in the state where the risk of infection is moderate; the rest of the state’s 67 counties are rated at high risk for the coronavirus, according to the ADPH COVID-19 dashboard.