Times Chronicle & Public Spirit
Commissioners hear complaints on masking in schools
NORRISTOWN » Tensions were high during Thursday’s Montgomery County Board of Commissioners meeting as members of the public expressed their frustrations with mask wearing in schools.
Nine people addressed the commissioners, some in-person and some virtually, to share their views amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“If the county commissioners have no say in what our school boards do, or if it’s just recommendations, then I think you need to come out and make a firm statement that they are absolutely 100 percent able to go against everything that the public health is recommending,” said Laurie Bomar. “Because you have us trapped.”
“You have our children trapped with these ridiculous mitigations,” she continued. “My chil
dren would like to know why their cousins in other parts of the country can go to school without masks and without the worry of being quarantined. This is absurd.”
Prior to the public comment section of Thursday’s meeting, commissioners made their own remarks concerning the county Office of Public Health guidelines.
“First, I want to reiterate that there are currently no county imposed mask mandates in any Montgomery County public school. Masking policies in Montgomery County public schools are under the purview of the elected school board who is charged with approving a health and safety plan for their school district,” said Commissioners’ Chairwoman Val Arkoosh. “The Montgomery County Office of Public Health has consistently followed the science and data based recommendations of the CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health in developing the recommendations that the office of public health shares with our schools.
“The Office of Public Health provides regular support to our schools on masking, and a number of other COVID mitigation measures, such as assurance testing, test to stay and mask to stay,” she continued. “The Office of Public Health will continue to review recommendations as COVID-19 evolves from
a pandemic to an endemic situation, and continue to share those recommendations with our schools.”
Commissioner Joe Gale shared his perspective during his opening comments.
“Over the last several months, but particularly in recent weeks, I’ve heard from a very significant number of parents across Montgomery County that share concerns of their children being forced to be masked in schools here in Montgomery County,” Gale said. “And I want these families to know that I hear you loud and clear, and to understand that the negative impact on the social development, the psychological development and educational development (of) our children is at great harm due to all this mask wearing.
“And in my capacity as Montgomery County commissioner, I would like to strongly urge the Montgomery County Board of Health, my colleagues if that requires them as well, to lift the recommendations for masks to be required in schools,” he continued. “It’s gone on for far too long. It’s caused unnecessary harm and it needs to stop.”
“Commissioner Gale, thank you so much for your comments,” said Jamie Kaplan. “To have somebody in a position actually acknowledging the pain that parents and children are experiencing means a lot.”
Solicitor Maureen Calder stressed when reading out the regulations for public comment that “comments regarding masking” were not appropriate for this venue. Those interested in
speaking had a two-minute timeframe.
“Comments regarding masking in schools are not germane to county business as this board takes no vote on this issue,” Calder said. “These comments are not appropriate at this meeting and should be shared with your local school board.”
“So you’re sending us to the board of health. The school district is sending us to the county, and it’s just a very circular route that gets us nowhere,” said Towamencin Township resident Pauline Braccio.
“Lower Merion School District has asked the OPH
for support in developing off ramps to step down its COVID mitigations, and they have not gotten the support they need,” said Wynnewood resident Katie Calabrese. “School boards are not doctors. They need your help. Please give it.”
The Montgomery County Office of Public Health includes “K-12 School Guidance” on the county’s website. The webpage was last updated on Feb. 7. The county’s health department addresses masking in a statement reading in part that “Montgomery County is currently experiencing a high level of community transmission,
and mask-wearing continues to be an effective strategy for minimizing the spread of COVID-19—particularly in settings in which individuals are not vaccinated. At this time, Montgomery County Office of Public Health encourages schools to continue to require mask-wearing as recommended by the CDC.”
“The Office of Public Health is reviewing and discussing indicators that we will use to guide our recommendations in this next phase of the pandemic. We do not yet have a timeline for release,” said Communications Director Kelly Cofrancisco in a statement following Thursday morning’s meeting.
Montgomery County reported 162 COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths in a twoday period on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Montgomery County’s COVID-19 Data HUB. Of those confirmed cases, six came from long term care facilities and two from the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Eagleville.
“We continue to see a steady decrease in our COVID-19 indicators each week, which is great news,” Arkoosh said.
Montgomery County is experiencing a “10.9 percent positivity rate” and a “total seven-day average of cases” at 138.4, according to Arkoosh. She added that “this is down from a seven-day average of 218.7 and a positivity of 15.33 percent just one week ago. So this is great progress.”
An incidence rate of 126 cases per 100,000 residents was also reported for the county during the most recent seven days of Feb. 4 to Feb. 10, according to the state health department’s COVID-19 Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard.
Arkoosh said “hospitalizations are also trending downward” as 112 people are in Montgomery County medical facilities, according to the county’s online resources dashboard, seventeen of whom are in need of a ventilator. Arkoosh noted these figures are “down from a peak of 669 (hospitalizations) on Jan. 12.”
There have been 119,223 cases and 1,602 deaths reported since the coronavirus was first detected in Montgomery County back in March 2020, according to the county’s online COVID-19 resources dashboard.
Arkoosh noted that 28 deaths were reported from Feb. 3 to Feb. 12.
“The majority of these individuals were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated,” Arkoosh said. “The best way to protect yourself from serious disease, hospitalization and death is to get vaccinated, and boosted for maximum protection against the virus and its variants.”
“And I do want to stress the importance of that booster dose if you’re due for one,” she continued. “Like many vaccines the strength of the COVID-19 vaccine decreases over time, and a booster dose, if you’re due for one, will give you the best protection from serious disease.”
Montgomery County has four operational COVID-19 vaccination clinics in King of Prussia, Norristown, Pottstown, and Willow Grove.
“The good news is our data shows that 95 percent of eligible Montgomery County residents who are over the age of 5 or older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and we do believe that the majority of these folks are fully vaccinated, but not enough people are getting boosters, so again just want to stress that,” Arkoosh said.
A series of pop up “community vaccine clinics” are scheduled over the next few days in Ardmore, Chalfont, Glenside, and Spring House. For more information, visit montcopa.org/calendar.
Additionally, free COVID-19 tests are available at several locations across the county in Ardmore, Green Lane, Lansdale, Norristown, Pottstown, and Willow Grove. For more information and to register, visit montcopa. org/covid-19.