Harrist Refuses To Sign Off On Torrington Variance Asking For No Masks In Schools

in News/Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

State health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist refused to sign off on a Goshen County health variance that tried to get around the local school district’s mask mandate.

Last week, the Goshen County School District, which encompasses Torrington, implemented a mask mandate for students in kindergarten through 12th grade due to rising COVID cases and the children’s inability to be vaccinated against the virus, since only the Pfizer vaccine is available to children 12 and older.

However, when county health officer Ted Church asked for a variance to this order, Harrist refused to sign off on it, saying it was not in the best interest of public health.

“I will not sign this order because the Wyoming Department of Health does not agree that this order is in the best interest of public health nor necessary for the protection of public health,” Harrist told Church in an email provided to Cowboy State Daily by the Wyoming Department of Health. “County public health orders must be entered under the direction and supervision of the Wyoming Department of Health to be in effect.”

Harrist added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Wyoming Department of Health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all currently recommended that K-12 students and staff wear masks as a transmission prevention measure.

“According to metrics developed both by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Wyoming Department of Health, Goshen County is currently experiencing high levels of transmission,” Harrist wrote. “Goshen County’s vaccination rate is 30.75%. We believe in-person instruction is best for students. This proposed action would not support that goal.”

As of Friday, the district had 23 confirmed active cases of the virus and 160 students were in quarantine either due to infection or exposure, according to the district’s COVID dashboard.

“We regularly review and update guidance based on the current state of COVID-19, and will continue to work with school districts, local officials, and other stakeholders to strike an appropriate balance between protecting the health of our children and ensuring that in-person learning takes place to the greatest degree possible,” Harrist concluded.

Goshen is just one of a handful of school districts that have recently implemented mask mandates due to rising COVID cases. Laramie County School District 1, which encompasses Cheyenne and is the largest school district in the state, implemented one this week.

According to the Torrington Telegram, Church will host a public meeting on Friday night at the county fairgrounds to discuss the variance.

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