ATLANTA, Ga. — On June 1, the Fulton County School System joins an increasing number of districts across the state loosening restrictions on face masks during summer school sessions and continuing into next school year.
While some districts, such as Cobb County and Marietta City school systems, are lifting mask mandates only for those fully vaccinated, Fulton County Schools is lifting its mandate altogether.
Fulton Superintendent Mike Looney said the decision was based on new information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the declining cases of COVID-19 cases and rising numbers of those vaccinated.
“After the CDC’s new guidance was issued to allow vaccinated individuals to go without masks, it has become impractical for the district to differentiate between those who have been vaccinated or not,” Looney said.
The CDC issued the guidelines in mid-May, stating people who are fully vaccinated can “resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” except where required by law or workplace rules.
Looney said he was also encouraged to learn 80 percent of district employees who completed a survey have received the vaccination. The recent inclusion of kids 12 and older now eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccination also played a role in the decision.
“We are pleased to see the increasing number of staff, students and community members who have received the vaccination and the continued data trends indicating COVID numbers are declining in our community,” Looney said.
Statewide cases of COVID-19 have been trending steadily downward since January, along with hospitalizations and death rates. In the North Fulton region, the number of cases per 100,000 population is below 100 in all cities. Johns Creek reported the lowest number with 39.5 positive cases per 100,000 in the first two weeks of May.
Looney said the district has taken a “cautious, measured approach” to managing the pandemic over the past year and relied upon science and guidance from its public health partners.
“This has allowed us to provide in person instruction with the least disruption possible [this year],” Looney said. “We plan to continue with this approach as we move into summer learning and the new 2021-22 school year in August.”
He said the district will continue to monitor the COVID situation, consult with public health officials and make adjustments as needed.
The decision to waive the mask mandate was hotly debated on social media, with more than 300 comments posted to the district’s Facebook page both pro and con in the day following the announcement.
A spokesman for the Fulton County School said that reaction was expected.
“As you have seen on social media, there is a mixed reaction, but that has been the case throughout the pandemic,” said communications chief officer Brian Noyes.
North Fulton board member Katie Reeves said she supports Looney’s decision and is confident it reflects his commitment to always follow science and data.
“Even though I know there are people who will be concerned [by this decision] I know there also many who will be relieved,” Reeves said. “I am glad that we have mask options for those who still do not feel safe.”
The issue of face masks has become increasingly divisive over the past few months. During a Fulton Board of Education meeting in May some audience members were escorted out of the board chambers for refusing orders to mask up.