NUSD makes face mask use optional; county ends mandate – Nogales International

The Nogales Unified School District returned from spring break on Monday with a new policy in place regarding face masks.

In a message sent to the NUSD community late last week, Superintendent Fernando Parra announced that masks will now be optional at school, on school buses and at school events.

Parra referred to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measurement system unveiled Feb. 25 that evaluates U.S. counties as having low, medium or high levels of COVID-19. The CDC suggests that healthy people who live in counties where the coronavirus poses a low or medium threat don’t need to wear masks in indoor settings, though businesses and institutions are still free to impose their own regulations. 

As of Monday, Santa Cruz County was experiencing a “medium” community level of COVID-19, along with the majority of Arizona’s counties. Only Yuma, La Paz and Apache counties remained in the “high” category, according to data from the CDC.

Parra initially made the use of face masks on school grounds obligatory for the 2021-2022 school year on Aug. 17, after a judge thwarted efforts by the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey to forbid schools from requiring face coverings. Then, in response to the new CDC standards announced late last month, NUSD sent a survey to school staff and parents/families asking for their feedback on NUSD’s policy. 

In his email last week, Parra said that about 45 percent of those surveyed were in favor of following the updated CDC masking guidance and making masks optional for students and staff. The other approximately 55 percent were in favor of keeping masking in place.

“After a great deal of thoughtful discussion and careful consideration, given the lower levels of COVID-19 data and close survey results, we have decided to move forward cautiously with optional masking at this time, unless there is a new surge and the Community Level becomes ‘high,’” he wrote, specifying that masking on school buses, in school buildings and at school events will be “based on personal choice.”

“Of course, this means that any students or staff who wish to continue masking for personal safety reasons or for health reasons (e.g. immunocompromised or at high risk for complications from COVID-19 infection) are welcome to continue masking,” he added.

Parra noted that NUSD’s other coronavirus-related health and safety protocols – including regular disinfection, air purification and weekly pooled testing – will continue. 

“We will also continue to monitor weekly CDC data and Santa Cruz County Community Level metrics,” he wrote. “If the data changes to ‘high,’ then required masking on school buses and inside school buildings/classrooms will be implemented once again per CDC guidance.”

The Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District said earlier this month that it would decide after spring break (March 7-11) whether or not to make changes to its mask policy. 

A change in county policy

Meanwhile, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors signed a resolution on March 1 rescinding a mask mandate in all county-owned buildings, according to a proclamation provided to the NI on Monday. Staff at the Santa Cruz County Detention Center, however, must continue to wear face coverings when directly interacting with inmates. The proclamation was not made during a public meeting.

Between Monday, March 7 and Monday, March 14, county health officials reported six new COVID-19 cases, one recent hospitalization, and one recent related death. It marks a continued decline in daily infections after the county experienced a post-holiday surge in January.  By comparison, between Monday, Jan. 31 and Monday, Feb. 7, county health officials had reported more than 500 cases. 

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