El Paso County Public Health to not require masks in school

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 7:04 AM MDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2021 at 10:48 AM MDT
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UPDATE (10 a.m.): The El Paso County health department will not require masks in schools this year, splitting from other Colorado counties which have announced new mandates in recent days.

In its long-awaited school guidance released Wednesday morning, the health department noted the CDC’s recommendation that masks be worn indoors while the delta variant surges nationwide but stopped short of outright requiring masks.

However, masks are required on buses, per federal order.

The health department is encouraging all eligible students and staff get vaccinated but will not mandate it. Vaccinated individuals will no longer need to quarantine as long as they are asymptomatic.

Quarantines will still be required throughout the year. If someone is positive for the virus they must isolate until 10 days have passed from the symptom onset date, they must be fever-free for 24 hours and have improving symptoms. If a positive person meets all three criteria they will be welcomed back to school.

Another change from last year surrounds the definition of an outbreak. The health department defined that has two or more cases of COVID-19 that originated in the same place within a 14-day window, that number has been notified to five. Each quarantine will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Other requirements include reporting positive COVID-19 cases to the health department, but schools can choose against contact tracing. The health department says if they do not contact trace the health department will do so for them.

Schools are asked to go through with another year of cohorting students. EPCPH says this is especially important in classrooms with kids who are not old enough to be vaccinated.

To view the guidance yourself, click here.


PREVIOUS (8/4, 6 a.m.): The El Paso County health department is on the verge of releasing its back-to-school guidance for districts.

11 News has been reaching out to the various districts over the past few weeks inquiring whether mask requirements or other measures will be in place for the upcoming school year. Several districts said they were waiting for guidelines from the health department before finalizing their own plans.

The health department told 11 News reporter Ashley Franco it expects to release its recommendations Wednesday.

Throwing a last-minute curveball as the department finalizes its guidance: Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest district, announced Tuesday all students and faculty would be required to mask up indoors regardless of vaccination status. El Paso County Public Health said that move -- as well as the city of Denver’s announcement one day prior that it would be requiring school staff to be vaccinated by the end of next month -- raised a lot of questions around its own recommendations and caused a bit of a setback in releasing them.

Some local districts aren’t waiting for the health department -- District 49, which returned to class this week, is moving forward without mask requirements. Parents Franco spoke with had mixed feelings about that move.

“I’m a little concerned for the kids. I’ve heard about the delta variant getting kids in the hospital, so I’m pro-mask until I know for sure,” parent Josephine Robles told 11 News, while mother Megan Beacon said her child didn’t wearing masks so she didn’t force the issue.

Several other districts told Franco they aren’t planning to mandate masks, just strongly encourage them, but that things could change if the situation with the delta variant continues its course.

“Right now we are in the time and place where we are not exactly sure of how the [county] guidance is going to shake out, and during a pandemic there were times where we got ahead of it and announced something only to literally 24 hours later say, ‘Oh, we’re so sorry, that’s no longer true,’” said Allison Cortez, spokesperson of El Paso County’s largest school district, D-20.

El Paso County Public Health says that when it does release its guidance, it won’t be a huge surprise for districts, as schools have already seen a rough draft

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