Times Chronicle & Public Spirit

Commission­ers hear complaints on masking in schools

- By Rachel Ravina rravina@thereporte­ronline.com

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.

 ?? ?? Left to right, Danny D’Antonio, Hanna Blosinski and Diana D’Antonio, Glenwood School first-grade students in Karen Maher’s class, decorated toilet paper rolls as snowmen, and donated face masks to local families in need, as part of the school’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service earlier this month.
Left to right, Danny D’Antonio, Hanna Blosinski and Diana D’Antonio, Glenwood School first-grade students in Karen Maher’s class, decorated toilet paper rolls as snowmen, and donated face masks to local families in need, as part of the school’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service earlier this month.

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