Douglas County health officials give students, teachers option to take off masks in school

In their first public health order Friday, the leaders of Douglas County’s newly established health department declared that students, teachers and staff no longer will have to wear masks in the 64,000-student school district.

The board of health also said in its order that no child “shall be required to quarantine because of exposure to a known COVID-19 positive case unless the exposure is associated with a known outbreak or otherwise required by superseding state or federal mandate.”

The health order comes after several tumultuous weeks during which the Douglas County commissioners withdrew the county from the jurisdiction of the Tri-County Health Department, after Tri-County imposed a mask mandate for all students on Sept. 1 in Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams counties.

Most school districts in the metro area have a mask mandate of some type in place, especially for younger children who are not yet eligible for the COVID vaccine. Students who want to continue wearing masks in the Douglas County School District, the state’s third-largest, will be able to do so under the new order.

Many parents in Douglas County point out that there has been little severe impact on young people in the county from COVID-19 — only one person 17 or younger has died of the respiratory disease since the pandemic started 19 months ago — and that decisions about masking children should be left in the hands of parents rather than coming from a government mandate.

The public health order passed Friday, which goes into effect at midnight Saturday, states that should a parent or legal guardian of an underage student feel that a face covering has “a negative impact on that individual’s physical and/or mental health,” they can give a “written declaration” of their desire for an exemption to an official at their child’s school.

The order also raises the threshold for enacting a quarantine because of potential exposure to the coronavirus, while also stating that any child placed in quarantine in Douglas County shall have it lifted “after a minimum of seven days from exposure, if after five days from exposure they have a negative test result…”

The board of health added adults as eligible for a mask exemption in Douglas County schools, a class of people that were not in the original draft of the order considered Friday.

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