By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming’s largest school district has reversed its decision and implemented a mask mandate.
Laramie County School District 1, which encompasses Cheyenne, implemented a mask mandate on Wednesday night after the board of trustees held a special meeting to discuss the issue.
The district requires all students to wear masks when they cannot socially distance 6 feet. There will be mask-free zones and mask breaks in the classroom, however.
Dr. Margaret Crespo, the district’s new superintendent, addressed the mandate in a letter sent out to parents Wednesday night.
“Laramie County remains in the high-risk, “red” category for community transmission based on the total new cases per 100,000 in the past week and the percentage of positive tests,” Crespo said in the letter. “Additionally, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center is at capacity and is using other areas including the emergency room and pediatric floor to house COVID-19 patients.”
CRMC has more than 50 COVID patients as of this week, the highest amount in the state. Laramie County has the second-highest number of active COVID cases, behind Natrona County.
The mask mandate will be in place until Laramie County leaves the red or orange zones for community transmission of the virus. When this happens, masks will just be recommended, not required.
“Just as we have seen in the community, our district has experienced a rise in positive COVID-19 cases and an increase in student and staff quarantines,” Crespo said. “Since Aug. 18, almost 1,000 students and staff have been quarantined. Currently, more than 420 are in quarantine. Additionally, we have seen more than 180 positive cases since Aug. 18 and currently have more than 90 active positive cases.”
According to the district’s COVID dashboard, there have been 162 confirmed cases in the district since Aug. 18, about one week before school started for the fall. As of Tuesday, the district had 12 active staff cases and 61 active student cases.
Of those 162 confirmed cases, more than 130 of them have been in students, almost a completely even split between students in kindergarten through sixth grades (most of whom can’t be vaccinated due to the Pfizer vaccine only being available to children 12 and older) and students in seventh through 12th grades.
Seventeen active COVID cases were confirmed in the district on Tuesday, 14 of which were students.
Other school districts across the state, including Teton, Sheridan, Albany and Goshen counties, have implemented mask mandates in the last two weeks due to rising cases both among their students and across the state.
Discussions about a mask requirement in LCSD1 grew heated during the board of trustees meeting in mid-August, with some people even calling school officials “criminals” and “child abusers.” Some people were even harassed by fellow audience members for supporting a mask requirement.
Gov. Mark Gordon has repeatedly said he will not implement a second statewide mask mandate, saying those decision are better left to local leaders.