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Bucks Health Department switches gears on school masking recommendation

Dr. David Damsker is recommending masking for all students for the start of the 2021-22 academic year


Last week, the Bucks County Health Department recommended that school districts make masking optional for the start of the 2021-22 academic year. Today, acting on new information from area hospitals, the department’s director Dr. David Damsker recommended masking for all students.

While hospitalizations and deaths have not risen in Bucks County as the rate of new COVID-19 infections continues to climb, Damsker explained that “even under normal circumstances, hospitals in Bucks County have limited ability to treat severe pediatric cases of any type. As our hospitals must refer all serious cases to pediatric specialty hospitals in the region, many of those same specialty pediatric hospitals are already operating at close to capacity because of non-COVID illness and staffing issues. While our COVID-19 cases among school-aged children remain very low, hospitals are growing concerned that any pediatric COVID-19 cases could stress the system.”

Hospitals in Bucks County are recommending that schools follow CDC guidance and begin the fall semester with a mask requirement, and Damsker is supporting this.

“This is particularly important for students who are unvaccinated, which includes all students under 12,” said Damsker. “We continue to urge, in the strongest possible sense, that everyone get vaccinated.”

Several school districts, including Council Rock, have already voted to make masks optional for the fall. Others, such as Pennsbury, are slated to take a vote this week. It’s currently unknown whether or not Council Rock will adjust its decision to align with Damsker’s latest guidance. While many parents are fiercely fighting for optional masking, others, especially those of elementary schoolers who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, hope their school board will listen to Damsker.

On Saturday, the county’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 infections ticked up to 86 cases per day, compared to an 80-day average the previous week. More than 130 cases were reported on Saturday, the most since early May.

At 4.5 percent, Bucks County’s test positivity rate for the week of Aug. 6-12 was below the statewide rate of 6 percent.

There have been two deaths linked to COVID since last week, both reported on Aug. 6. A total of three deaths have been reported over the past 30 days. At least 25 people with COVID were hospitalized at the end of last week, none of them on ventilators.

At least 5,702 COVID vaccines were administered in the county last week, the most since late June. About 65 percent of eligible Bucks residents have received at least one dose of vaccine. To date, 637,203 total doses have been administered, enough to fully vaccinate 312,889 people and partially vaccinate 39,256 others. Immunocompromised individuals are now eligible to receive a third dose and should contact their doctor or the Bucks County Health Department at 215-345-3318 for more information.

Bucks County continues to offer free vaccinations to anyone age 12 and over from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays at the Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem and Warwick Square in Jamison. Click here for more information.

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