Alabama doctors caution lifting school mask mandates


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – In Alabama, 65 counties are considered high risk for COVID-19 and school systems across the state are lifting mandatory face covering policies. This is leaving some doctors concerned.

Health leaders are saying now is not the right time to be getting rid of mask mandates, saying masks need to stay while transmission is high.

“Indefinitely,” is how long Children’s of Alabama Pediatric Infectious Diseases Dr. David Kimberlin said during a conversation on what is new with COVID-19 Monday.

“As the rates do decrease and we drop below substantial then we can loosen up some,” Kimberlin said.

During the update, Kimberlin said now is not the time to lift mask requirements while so many communities are in the red of COVID-19 transmission.

Districts like Cullman City Schools have been mask optional this year except for East Elementary School and Cullman Middle School. Both buildings had a mandatory mask requirement for two weeks around Labor Day after a spike in cases.

“The reason we did that on both campuses was positive cases,” Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff said. “Student numbers were over five percent, so the board agreed to do a mask mandate on those two campuses for two weeks, and at the expiration of those two weeks our cases were almost below one percent.”  

Kimberlin said this just doesn’t cut it.

“That just doesn’t make sense, and yet, that’s what many schools are doing, and I can promise you what’s going to happen, cases will come roaring back and they’ll have to redo it all over again and there will be a lot of virtual people learning,” he said. “It’s just silly. Let’s just do it the right way, stay the course, and get to the other side of this.”  

When CBS 42 asked about the district’s confidence in keeping people safe as masks are optional, Kallhoff said he’s not certain.

“We cannot control what happens outside of our school, we can only control what happens at our school,” Kallhoff said.

According to Kallhoff, the district is constantly monitoring positive cases in school. On Monday, he said there were 16 students district-wide that were positive, making up less than one percent of all students.

Health leaders said masking up is still the best protection for kids and those around them until they can receive the vaccine.

“It is really hard for parents right now who have unvaccinated kids to be in the height of the surge and wanting the best for their family,” UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases Dr. Rachael Lee said. “Continue to mask up. It is important if you’re fully vaccinated to mask around others.”

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