Bucks County changes school COVID-19 guidance again to recommend masking

Students work on assignments during a summer school program

Students work on assignments during a summer school program. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

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The Bucks County Health Department now recommends that schools require masks. The move comes just after the Health Department gave the opposite advice and recommended that schools adopt a mask-optional policy.

The department explained in an earlier statement that even within the county, some areas are hit by COVID-19 more than others, so there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach, and that any measures should not affect healthy people if possible.

The department named this approach “targeted temporary mitigation” and called it the “the gold standard from a public health perspective.” County health officials also said the policies were based on “science, years of public health policy, 18 months of accumulated local experience with the pandemic, and common sense.”

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However, that approach had angered some parents and local doctors concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on children, especially children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. The issue has spurred a heated debate in the county between parents who support and oppose mask mandates, especially in the Central Bucks and Council Rock school districts.

On Tuesday, the department reversed itself and now recommends that schools require masks. The department said local hospitals said any pediatric COVID-19 cases could stress the system, especially specialty hospitals outside the county where children with serious cases of the virus would be referred, and that was why it is now following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when it comes to masking in schools.

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“As a result of this new information provided by our partner hospitals, we support their recommendation to follow CDC guidance on masking in schools,” said Bucks County Health Commissioner Dr. David Damsker. “This is particularly important for students who are unvaccinated, which includes all students under 12. We continue to urge, in the strongest possible sense, that everyone get vaccinated.”

Damsker has said previously that his recommendations do not always agree with the CDC. Last month, he told one school administrator to decline to have parents report positive COVID-19 cases to the school’s day care facility, comparing COVID-19 to the way influenza is often handled.

The Health Department later reversed itself on that advice as well, citing “the input of the county commissioners” and a changing COVID climate.

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