Will the mask be compulsory in Bethlehem schools this year? The school board will discuss the policy on Monday.

The Bethlehem area school board is expected to discuss the need for masks for the 2021-22 school year on Monday evening.

District Superintendent Joseph Roy in an interview last week said the district is still developing a tiered health and safety plan that covers decisions such as mask wear, recess, school trips and school visitors. He intends to present his recommendations, which were not yet finalized, for the wearing of the mask this school year during a special school commission.

Bethlehem plans to open five days a week with a regular school schedule after offering a hybrid schedule in the 2020-21 school year. The district plans to look at many metrics, not just a building’s coronavirus case count, to decide if a pivot is needed.

“We know a lot more now about how to keep schools safe and open,” Roy said.

The majority of school districts in Northampton County have so far opted for optional masking. Although many made decisions before the highly contagious Delta variant spiked rates of new cases in Pennsylvania.

Roy is closely monitoring the number of local coronavirus cases and the dashboard of the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s early warning surveillance system, which tracks new cases week to week, he said. he said Thursday. The state’s scoreboard update on Friday gives Northampton County the highest population-adjusted infection rate in the Commonwealth: 108.1 cases per 100,000 people over the past week, followed by Monroe County with 91.6 per capita, followed by Potter at 84.7 per 100,000. The statewide rate is 55 per 100,000.

(Can’t see this map? Click here.)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday elevated Northampton County to a high level of community transmission, its highest level. Northampton was one of only three counties in Pennsylvania with a high level of community spread, defined as more than 100 cases per 100,000 people over the past week or a test positive rate of 10% or more. Lehigh County and 27 other counties fall under the substantial spread category, which means they have seen 50 to 99 new cases per 100,000 in the past seven days or a test positivity of between 8% and 9, 9%.

The CDC recommended last week that counties with substantial or high transmission levels resume indoor masking. It also updated its guidelines for opening schools to recommend universal K-12 masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors, even if they are vaccinated. This brings the CDC in line with the American Academy of Pediatrics school reopening guidelines.

All of this will determine whether additional mitigation efforts are needed.

The Bethlehem Region is working closely with the City Health Unit, St. Luke University Health Network and District Health Services Supervisor Dr Kim Zsitek-Brannan to develop its multi-level approach. of education in the era of COVID-19.

School board president Michael Faccinetto, who is also a teacher, said the board plans to heed the final recommendations from St. Luke’s and the health office as it has done throughout the pandemic.

“There is no doubt that school is five days a week. This is not going to change. There is no way that will change. Our intention is that these are normal school trips for the school year, all other events, ”he said. “The question is: what do we do with the masks? We are closely monitoring trends in the number of cases and I am certainly noticing what local colleges, universities and businesses are doing by requiring masks indoors regardless of vaccination status while we await expert advice. of St. Luke’s.

Bethlehem’s multi-level health and safety plan will outline various measures to follow, such as increasing vaccination rates and the number of new cases in school and in the community, along with a series of guidelines and strategies. attenuation options attached to each level.

The most important question once schools reopen is whether the community’s spread of the virus is reflected in school buildings, Roy said.

“I’ll be sharing a tiered plan that allows us to shift gears on things like masks if there’s high spread,” Roy said.

The school board meets Monday at 6 p.m. in the Edgeboro Room at the District Education Center, 1516 Sycamore St. The meeting is being broadcast live on YouTube, but anyone wishing to make a public comment must attend in person.

The school board has already approved the state-mandated district health and safety plan.

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Sara K. Satullo can be reached at [email protected].

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