Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

Delaware appears more apt than Maryland to do away with mask mandates in public schools. This week Delaware Gov. John Carney said he would extend his requirement public and private school students wear masks until Feb. 8, 2022. However, Carney hinted it might not be extended beyond that if vaccination rates among youth hit acceptable levels.

“Delaware children from kindergarten through high school are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, which will go a long way in protecting the health of students, educators, and school communities statewide,” said Carney. “It’s our hope that, by February, we will be able to lift the state mask requirement. Our focus over the coming weeks and months will be on increasing Delaware’s vaccination rates. That’s how we’ll finally move past this pandemic. These vaccines are free, safe, and extremely protective against the COVID-19 virus. Getting the shot will keep Delaware’s children protected, and keep them in school. I’d encourage all eligible Delawareans to get their shot.”

Delaware’s plan comes on the heels of Maryland’s indication the state school board would re-evaluate its current close contact quarantine rule at its December meeting. At a recent state Department of Education meeting, State School Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury said he has been communicating with Maryland Health Department Deputy Secretary Dr. Jinlene Chan on changing the current guidance governing quarantine for students exposed to a positive individual. He said, “We are supportive of a modified quarantine. We have just not put anything out, but I hope we can soon.” Some education officials are expecting the quarantine time for exposed students to potentially be cut in half from 14 days to seven days so long as symptoms do not exist.  Vaccinated students must not have to quarantine at all so long as they remain without symptoms. Masking was also discussed, but until late Thursday it did not seem Maryland was ready to consider lifting its mask mandate for schools. The state board announced Thursday it was going to discuss masking at a special meeting next Tuesday.

In late August, the Maryland school board mandated masks in all public schools without an end date but promised to re-evaluate the move often. The state legislative committee’s approval of the mask mandate came around the same time and will last until February. The committee could rescind the approval though if the state school board deems the mandate is no longer needed. Masking will surely come up at next week’s state school board meeting, but shorter quarantine times were initially to be the focus.

In Worcester County schools, it’s worth nothing students who are deemed close contacts to positive individuals do not have to quarantine presently so long as they submit to testing every other day in school and remain asymptomatic. It’s a laudable approach referred to as “test to stay” and largely embraced by parents who like to see the focus on keeping their kids in the classroom. If the students deemed close contacts do not wish to submit to the testing, the appropriate quarantine protocol would have to then be followed.

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President Biden has long promised deadlines will be put in place requiring health care workers and private sector employees get vaccinated. The effective dates were announced last week.

Effective Jan. 4, 2022, employers of 100 or more employees must have all employees fully vaccinated or require unvaccinated employees to produce a negative test once a week. The employers do not have to pay for the testing, but they must allow paid time off for the tests to be conducted each week. All unvaccinated employees must always mask. Though expected, this will cause major hardships for many businesses who will surely lose employees and suffer from productivity issues associated with required testing. Fines could come to those not following the law.

Additionally, the new Biden move requires all workers at health care facilities participating in Medicare or Medicaid to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. This change removes the weekly testing option for health care workers that had been in place for most medical facilities for some time. By the nature of their operations, most health care facilities boast high vaccination rates, but there are clinical and non-clinical individuals who have objected to the shots. Weekly testing continues until the end of the year. After Jan. 4, a vaccination will be required with the only out the religious exemption option that must be produced on paper.

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Buckingham Elementary School’s time is coming. It’s just a question of when. It’s no secret the Berlin-based school is in dire need of either a replacement or massive renovation.

There are three public elementary schools within 10 miles of each other in the north end of the county. Ocean City Elementary is a jewel of a facility with expansive classrooms and wings for each grade. Even before it was reconstructed last year, Showell Elementary provided a better learning environment from an infrastructure standpoint than Buckingham, but the severe crowding at the school off Route 589 made it the priority. For many years, Showell could not accommodate its fourth grade, putting further pressure on Berlin Intermediate School which took in the fourth graders along with its typical fifth and sixth graders.

The good news is Buckingham Elementary will eventually see a better school. Anyone who has ever been in the school realizes upgrades are needed. Exactly when a major project will be initiated at Buckingham is unclear, but it looks like it will be at least four years, according to the capital improvement plan approved this week.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.