KNOX COUNTY, Tenn — When Knox County Schools returns to the classroom this fall, there will be few COVID-19 restrictions. Masks aren't required and the district isn't contact tracing, although the health department said it'll help.
That's not what the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, or the Knox County Health Department recommend.
"The safest way to do in-person school is to mask," KCHD director Dr. Martha Buchanan said. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC just came out with a statement recommending that students and staff in schools do wear masks."
At the last Knox County Board of Education meeting, Dr. Buchanan said she advised members to follow whatever guidance the AAP and CDC put out.
That newly-released guidance includes requiring masks for staff and students who are able to wear them, regardless of vaccination status. Still, the back-to-school guidance from KCS said masks are allowed, but not required.
"I don't want to go back to masks either, so I understand their frustration," Dr. Buchanan said. "But until we get our vaccination rates up, we're all going to have to continue to do this to protect each other."
Data from the Tennessee Department of Health showed just 13.62% of children ages 10 to 14 had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Roughly 31.33% of teenagers 15 to 19 have received at least one dose. Children under the age of 12 aren't eligible yet.
"We do expect to see increased cases when school goes back in session," Dr. Buchanan said. "This is a lot earlier than I expected to see cases going up. Unfortunately, the Delta variant is proving to be more contagious than the previous variants."