Elmore County Schools students

Elmore County Schools students in the third through 12th grade must now wear masks at school. (File Photo)

The number of student COVID-19 cases across the county increased significantly, along with the number positive cases for employees, during the week of Aug. 16, prompting Elmore County Schools Superintendent Richard Dennis to change the system's mask-wearing policy.

Schools started the school year on Aug. 9 with masks being optional, but that changed on Aug. 18 when Dennis announced that masks would be required for all employees and for students in the third through 12th grade.

The mask requirement took effect on Aug. 19. Dennis said the decision was made in an effort to avoid having to shift to a virtual platform.

"Please, make sure your child has a mask when coming to school; school personnel will provide masks to those students that fail to bring them," Dennis said in a message to the community. "We encourage people to wear masks at extracurricular activities as well, even in outdoor

venues."

As of Aug. 18, about 78 percent of the adult employees reporting positive were unvaccinated.

"I encourage all adults, if eligible to consider getting vaccinated," Dennis said. "I understand there are many different perspectives on the COVID-19 health crisis. Our goal is to allow students to have the opportunity to attend school in person and we need your cooperation to continue to make it happen. I appreciate your assistance in helping to keep students in schools."

As of Aug. 20, 16 employees and 111 students tested positive for COVID-19.

"If numbers continue to increase and schools are unable to cover faculty and staff absences, schools will shift to virtual platforms as needed until each is able to return enough faculty and staff to support face-to-face operations," Dennis said. "COVID is going to be a part of life at least for the foreseeable future. As the number of COVID cases rises and falls, adjustments will be made to best accommodate and keep schools open for face-to-face instruction."

Dennis said this means that the district's policies may fluctuate from no masks to masks, and virtual school as necessary.

As high school football begins, attendance is expected to be high, so attendees are encouraged to take precautions as needed.