Keep mask mandates in Mississippi schools

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The leader of a Mississippi pediatrics organization is urging school districts to enforce mask mandates to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Many school boards in Mississippi are dropping mask requirements,” said Dr. Anita Henderson of Hattiesburg, president of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, on Twitter Thursday. “Children under 12 cannot be vaccinated and only about 30% of all 12-17 year olds in Mississippi are fully vaccinated. This is not the time to let our guard down.”

The Mississippi State Department of Health has reported nine pediatric deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began in the spring of 2020.

Mississippi saw a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations from July, but the numbers have declined in recent weeks.

In central Mississippi, the Madison County School District has removed most of its mask mandate effective Sept. 24, making masks optional in most places, but still mandatory on buses. The district has about 13,000 students.

Also in the central part of the state, the Rankin County School Board voted to lift a mandate on Sept. 22, saying masks are now “not mandatory but highly recommended” in the district of more than 18,000 students. The change in Mississippi’s central district came weeks after some parents protested the mandate at a school board meeting.

On the Gulf Coast, the Ocean Springs School Board voted Wednesday to lift a mask mandate in the district of about 5,800 students starting Thursday. The district said in a statement that board members decided weeks earlier that the mandate would expire after COVID-19 hospitalizations in Mississippi fell below 925 for seven consecutive days. It said that threshold was reached on September 24.

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