MANHATTAN (KSNT) – The Manhattan-Ogden USD 383 School District Board met on Monday night to discuss the possibility of enforcing a mask mandate in light of the recent rise in COVID cases.
The board hosted Dr. Ryan Knopp and Dr. Kate Dove from the local Medical Advisory Board to answer questions and speak about bringing masks back into the school district.
“The combination of the lingering delta variant, the fast-paced onset of the highly transmissible omicron-COVID variant at a contagiousness level that’s really close to measles which we definitely did not see coming,” Knopp said. “In the setting of many cases of influenza and other seasonal respiratory viruses, it’s yet again led to a very challenging situation in healthcare, in the business sector and in society at large and, I fear, soon will lead to more challenges.”
Knopp went on to recommend a temporary return to masks in the district to help protect students and staff from the recent uptick in COVID cases.
“We would encourage a return to universal masking throughout the school district for at least the first four to six weeks of the second semester,” said Knopp.
Knopp said that this time frame was suggested to help manage the peak of the omicron wave, the lingering delta wave and seasonal influenza viruses.
He went on to say that total COVID cases are soaring and have increased over 204% in the past two weeks with a nationwide positivity rate of over 20%. Hospitalizations for those with COVID have increased 35% in the past two weeks. Knopp placed the COVID numbers in the context of an increase in influenza viruses that are putting additional pressure on local healthcare systems.
Knopp, who runs a family practice in Manhattan, said that local healthcare providers have completely run out of COVID tests.
“You may not understand the dire situation we’re in yet again as healthcare providers, but I see this every day. Dr. Dove sees this every day. It is exhausting, it is disheartening and it will undoubtedly get worse over the next one to two months,” Knopp said.
According to Knopp, vaccinations are the best tools for preventing future infections and outbreaks. Testing is also an effective tool, though he said if his office can’t get testing kits then people should throw that idea away.
On masking, “it’s not the end-all-be-all,” he said. “I’m not here to say that it’s the most important tool in the tool kit, but it can be helpful.”
Knopp recommended that the KN-95, KF-94 and N-95 masks are the best options for people to use. Surgical masks and well-constructed cloth masks work well but are not the best.
“I’m keenly aware that there are often two camps on the issue of masking,” Knopp said. “Those that say that we should never do masks and are adamantly opposed to them and those who say we should be universally masking until this pandemic is over. But as many of you have heard me say many times throughout this pandemic, there happens to be a lot of truth and common sense in the middle ground here.”
Masking, when employed where it makes the most sense, appeared to be the medical advisory board’s best recommendation to the school board. Not the permanent employment of masks during the pandemic, but only during spikes such as what is being seen in Manhattan now.
“What if here in Manhattan, Kansas, we found a way to work together, meet in the middle, say we’re gonna employ masks as one tool in the tool kit for a brief period of time when it’s needed most, like over the next handful of weeks,” he said. “Then be also willing to say that as soon as we’re past that crisis, quickly we pull it back. To me, that’s meeting in the middle.”
The school board voted at the conclusion of the meeting for whether or not to implement a temporary return to a mask mandate for USD 383. At a vote of 4-1, the board agreed with the plan to bring the mandate back into the district.
To watch the full school board meeting, see the YouTube video below.