Anxiety mounts even as Johnson County passes mask order for K-6th grade schools

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OLATHE, Kan. — Even as Johnson County, Kansas approved their latest public health order, some health professionals question if its impact will be enough to keep kids in the classroom.

The discussion is on-going in districts including Blue Valley. Under current district policy masks are still considered optional.

A statement issued Tuesday by the district said: “We continue to monitor developments surrounding the recent surge of COVID-19 in our area, as well as local, state and national guidance as it relates to the safety of our students and community. The situation is evolving quickly and our primary goal remains to provide in-person learning in the safest manner possible. We expect to have more details about our steps for moving forward in the coming days.”

FOX4 is still waiting to hear if and when there will be an official meeting addressing the county’s decision.

But there continues to be concern that, even if the health order is adopted without resistance, this school year could be in for some serious turbulence.

Masks are just one piece of the puzzle to Fariha Shafi. She is a mom to a student at Blue Valley. She is also a local doctor of internal medicine.

“What do you think is going to be happening as we head into September?” FOX4’s Jacob Kittilstad said.

“To be really honest, we don’t have to think what will happen. Last year, in Blue Valley, when we did the mask mandate and had all those guidelines in place, our own district is an excellent case study in how effective mitigation measures, especially masks, work,” Shafi said.

But this year will be different from last. One major change is quarantining rules. Recently issued revised Kansas guidelines say that, in schools, frequent COVID-19 testing will now be preferred over the-once-standard isolation after exposure.

Doctors at Children’s Mercy Hospital also say vaccinations for people “around the young” are important.

“So this means getting teachers, school staff, parents, older siblings, everybody vaccinated for COVID-19 who’s eligible. We call this cocooning,” Dr. Jennifer Schuster of Children’s Mercy Hospital’s Infectious Diseases Department said.

Dr. Mitchell Douglass, who works in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Kansas Medical Center, said for the mental health of kids, it is best to be in person.

“Kids need to be in school. I want kids to be in school,” Douglass said. “If this is what it takes to get a kid in school, let’s do that.”

But Shafi said she still feels pessimistic about the upcoming school year.

“I think within the next couple of weeks you’re going to see that the schools are going to have to be shut down,” Shafi said.

“And I think the burden is going to be very different this time around because our schools actually don’t have a plan. There is no hybrid. There is no virtual platform. It’s going to be in-person or you’re going to be figuring out a plan on your own,” Shafi said.

Also fueling that anxiety – even with their health order high school students will still have optional masking. In Blue Valley schools, there is currently no plan to ask students their vaccination status.

Johnson County’s most recent report on vaccinations shows that about 17% of students 12-to-17 are vaccinated.

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