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Schools gear up for a new semester as Omicron surges across Alabama

Published: Dec. 30, 2021 at 9:15 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The Omicron variant is rapidly spreading across the state as many schools gear up for a new semester next week.

Jefferson County Health Officials said because Omicron is so much more infectious, parents need to be sending their kids to school wearing masks, regardless of vaccination status.

Officials with Bessemer City Schools said they’ll be requiring the face coverings for all students and teachers in the new year.

“Our recommendations are still for masking in schools,” Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said. “That’s a great way to avoid quarantine in schools.”

Small quarantine numbers is what officials with Bessemer City Schools saw after masking students and teachers in 2021.

“The last three months, we trended downwards,” Superintendent Dr. Autumm Jeter said. “It was zero cases, this is employee and student numbers, and at max two cases before Christmas. We attribute that to our masks.”

Jeter said they have no plans to take the mask policy away.

“Our students next week will start the week with their masks on and same for our employees,” Jeter said. “It’s just what our district thought was best.”

The district heads back to school next week and Jeter said they plan to send parents COVID protocol reminders this weekend.

“There is a central office COVID team,” Jeter said. “We receive all the alerts of positive cases or possible exposures and then we follow protocol with a letter to those individuals who are positive.”

As a new semester approaches, Jeter said high school parents can switch to virtual if they are worried about the new variant. She said younger students can go virtual on a case by case basis. Jeter said parents can just reach out to the district coordinator.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said cases in schools are inevitable.

“We are likely to see many exposures in schools with this surge,” Wilson said.

But, Jeter said they are prepared to switch to virtual if needed, but they hope not to switch district wide.

“If there was more than 10% in a class, we may have put that class on virtual, “ Jeter said about last semester. “Preferably we will not have to do whole district, but we are going to handle that case by case.”

The district is planning to continue their monthly vaccination and COVID testing clinics into the new year. Jeter said they have vaccinated more than one hundred kids with these sites and they are open to the public.

Click here for vaccination clinic dates.

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