All public school children, teachers and staff in Charlottesville and Albemarle County will be required to wear masks when school returns later this month.
The decision from the two districts comes as cases of COVID-19 locally are once again rising, due in large part to the arrival of the highly contagious Delta variant.
In the last week, around 15 people have tested positive for the virus each day in the city and county — a sharp increase from the nearly zero daily cases in June.
“Continuing to wear masks makes it possible for us to meet our commitment to provide full in person instruction to all of our students while protecting their health and that of our staff,” Rosalyn Schmitt, Albemarle County Public Schools’ chief operating officer, said in a statement.
The policies are in line with recent recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Charlottesville City Schools announced its decision Monday. Ahead of the CDC recommendation, Albemarle’s school board in early July voted to require masks.
However, with local cases rising, Albemarle on Friday announced it would allow parents to opt out of in-person learning and re-enroll children in virtual classrooms anytime this week.
“When we started talking about virtual learning, enrollment was slow, we had maybe 100 people enroll,” said Phil Giaramita, a spokesman for Albemarle County Public Schools. “In the last month, it’s picked up, we now have over 300. I think it’s a logical assumption that what’s been going on with the virus contributed to that.”
That number, overall, is still comparably low — around 2.5% of Albemarle’s student body.
Meanwhile, Charlottesville City Schools has not seen a similar increase in interest in virtual learning, said Amanda Korman, a district spokeswoman. Only 30 students have enrolled in a virtual classroom this year.
The district is still taking applications; however, district staff are only allowing students who they feel were successful at virtual learning last year continue. Some requests have been denied, Korman said.
By requiring masks, both districts say they are confident they can keep COVID spread at school low.
Both were operating in person between March and June. During that time, 20 students and one staff member tested positive for COVID in Charlottesville. That’s less than 1% of the student population.
In Albemarle, the numbers were comparable. Around 200 tested positive, around 1.5% of the student body.
“There are very few instances in which it is suspected that transmission of the virus occurred on school property,” Schmitt said.
The other thing working in school districts’ favor is vaccines, district spokespeople have said. In both districts the “majority” of teachers and staff are vaccinated, though neither district is requiring employees to get the vaccine.
Many children between 12 and 17 are also vaccinated. In Albemarle County, nearly 70% of children in this age range have received the vaccine, according to the district.
No COVID vaccines have been approved for children under 12.