Oklahoma school leaders grapple with preventative measures and legislative restrictions as fall semester, increasing COVID-19 numbers loom


OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Even though it’s against the law to require masks in schools, experts say it’s still a good idea for students to wear them. They say there is some concern about the upcoming school year.

Chris Brewster, superintendent of Santa Fe South Schools, is urging people to get vaccinated.

“For me, the vaccine will help me keep schools open, plus do what the public pays us to do, which is educate our kiddos,” he said. “If you get that shot, that would be a huge help for us.”

He says COVID-19 is already affecting their staff in professional development.

“Out of the blue, we have six new teachers that are now quarantined, actually seven, maybe an eighth
because of the delta variant, and some, most not being vaccinated,” Brewster said.

When the school year starts, he says he wants to avoid having to go to virtual learning.

“With issues even as common as the flu, if a building exceeds say, 20 percent absenteeism in a building, you would shut the building down, in our case we go from brick to click or roll right to remote learning,” he said.

While schools aren’t able to require masks, they hope students will wear them.

“Our desire, quite honestly, would be to be able to act within the data, and within the moment,” Brewster said. “We do highly recommend that our students come wearing masks.”

Dr. Aaron Wendelboe, professor of epidemiology at OU, does projections of COVID cases. While he doesn’t break down data by age, he expects cases to show up in schools.

“I expect schools will be affected, there’s going to be outbreaks, but I don’t think it’s going to be the same level as last year,” he said.

He also says the average transmission rate has increased.

“Right now I’m estimating that transmission rate is about 2.9, which means on average, every case is transmitting it to 2.9 other people, and that’s really high. At the end of May, we were closer to two,” he said.

He says about 60 percent of Oklahomans have some form of immunity from infection or vaccine. Herd immunity is about 80 percent.

“What I have estimated is just under 2.4 million Oklahomans have some form of immunity,” he said.

Data from Dr. Dale Bratzler at OU Health gives a simple example. A school district with 5,000 students would be expected to have nine infected students based on current numbers. That assumes the whole state has the same density of cases. That number multiplies if those nine people infect others.

“Do I think every body, even fully vaccinated, in the classroom should wear a mask, and my answer is a resounding yes,” he said.

Bratzler says the data varies by county, so the example he gave is very simplified and has caveats.

The bottom line is, the larger the crowd you’re in, the more likely you’ll be exposed to someone with the virus.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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