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Masks 'strongly recommended,' but not required, at Sevier County Schools this fall

The board of education said it will continue to monitor COVID conditions in schools to dictate any future policy changes.

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn — Sevier County Schools will not require masks for the Fall 2021 semester, but is strongly recommending students and staff wear them as COVID-19 cases and  hospitalizations see a summer surge across East Tennessee.

The Assistant Superintendent of Student Services and Media Spokesperson at the district office, Tony Ogle, said the board discussed masks as part of the school reopening plan, saying it opted to strongly recommend them when social distancing isn't possible.

Ogle said the board will continue to monitor conditions to dictate any future policy changes.

Across East Tennessee, most school systems are bringing students and teachers back without mask mandates in place. Some, such as Hancock County and Willow Brook Elementary School in Oak Ridge, decided instead to mandate masks.

This is amid ongoing concerns about rising cases of COVID-19 in children --as younger children under 12 are still unable to receive any of the COVID vaccines.

Dr. Lisa Piercey, the state health commissioner, said Tennessee will start offering more pediatric data on hospitalizations and is asking children’s hospitals to report capacity.

The Department of Health is also looking into RSV cases and their correlation to COVID-19 as rising cases of both viruses cause capacity concerns for children's hospitals, according to Piercey.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged everyone in schools to wear masks, regardless of whether they were vaccinated for COVID-19.

In 2020, some studies pointed to children as possible superspreaders for COVID-19. Officials said that children often may not show symptoms, but can carry the coronavirus to another child or to family members who are more at risk.