WACO, Texas (KWTX) – The Waco ISD, with two-dozen schools and around 14,500 students, announced Thursday it will require face masks in schools and other district buildings starting Monday.
“In my visits to schools this week, I was heartened to see many (but by no means all) of our students and employees voluntarily wearing masks,” Kincannon wrote in an email to families and employees Thursday afternoon announcing the change.
“Masks have repeatedly been shown to reduce the spread of the virus and increasing the number of people wearing masks will make our schools a safer place in the midst of this pandemic. We will continue to consult with medical experts and monitor both legal and public health developments. Right now, though, I believe that Waco ISD has to do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”
The district had 34 active cases on Thursday, according to its dashboard, but as of 4 p.m. Thursday, 55 people who spent time at a campus or other facility reported testing positive for COVID-19, the WISD said.
The district had so many cases reported in such a short period of time only at the height of the pandemic last winter, Kincannon said.
Waco ISD is strongly encouraging fans to wear masks at WISD stadium, but masks are not required in outdoor spaces.
At this time the capacity for outdoor events will not be reduced, but crowds at indoor events will be lowered to 50%.
Coaches and athletes will wear masks inside district facilities and buses.
The Marlin ISD implemented a mask requirement this Monday in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus, but most area districts have balked at defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s order barring local entities from requiring masks.
But with comparatively low vaccination rates in McLennan County and throughout Central Texas, 175 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Waco, 39 of whom were on ventilators Thursday, Waco Mayor Dillon Meek said Wednesday the county’s healthcare system is on “the brink of collapse.”
McLennan County had 1,434 active cases Thursday and reported almost 250 new cases, as well.
Hospitalized patients tend to be younger and 92% of them were unvaccinated Thursday, according to health district data.
Just more than 28% of McLennan County residents from 12- to 15-years-of-age have received one dose of vaccine and 16% are fully vaccinated.
In the next demographic for which the Department of State Health Services provides data, 44.5% of residents 16- to 49-years-of-age have received one dose and 35% are fully vaccinated.
More than 44.6% of McLennan County residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated.
Statewide Thursday, 56% of Texas residents 12 and older were fully vaccinated.
In a blow to the efforts of some Texas counties, cities, and school districts to defy Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order barring local entities from issuing mask mandates, the Texas Supreme Court Thursday temporarily blocked a mask mandate issued by San Antonio and Bexar County for their public schools.
The suit by San Antonio and Bexar County is one of at least nine filed against Abbott over his bar on mask mandates.
The Texas Education Agency, in revised guidance issued a week ago, said the mask provisions of Abbott’s July 29 executive order “are not being enforced as the result of ongoing litigation. Further guidance will be made available after the court issues are resolved.”
“The reports that we are hearing from healthcare leaders are too urgent to wait until there is a final resolution to the ongoing litigation,” Kincannon said when asked about the governor’s executive order. “I did not make this decision lightly, and we will continue to monitor legal developments. However, faced with the growing number of cases in our schools and our community, I felt that we had to act now.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was unequivocal about the government’s order in a tweet late Thursday afternoon.
Waco-McLennan County Public Health District Local Health Authority Dr. Farley Verner, however, expressed full support of Kincannon’s decision.
“Universal masking in the school setting will be expected to significantly reduce the risk of in-school transmission, school outbreaks and school closures,” Verner wrote Thursday afternoon.
While children are less likely to have severe disease as a result of COVID infection, their ability to transmit infection to others in the home is similar to older people. This then results in increased transmission in the community. Any increase in community transmission at this time will put potentially intolerable stress on the local hospitals and healthcare systems.”
Written by KWTX staff