Hidalgo County health authority issues mask mandate for area schools
Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez on Friday issued an order that students, staff and visitors at all public and private schools--from kindergarten through grade 12-- must wear facial coverings while inside area schools regardless of vaccination status.
Any Hidalgo County school district may opt out of the mandate if the school board votes to do so, the county said.
"We're having an explosion of people in the hospital," Dr. Ivan Melendez said.
The increase in hospitalizations in Hidalgo County now includes more children than Dr. Melendez has seen throughout any point during the pandemic. Forty-nine kids are battling COVID inside hospitals, with 12 of them in critical condition.
"Quite frankly, some of these are mechanically intubated. They're infants,” Dr. Melendez said. “We're not sure if these kids are going to survive.”
There were only two kids and 46 adults hospitalized with COVID-19. On Friday, Melendez said there are 489 adults and nearly 50 kids lying in a hospital bed. This increase - and the first day of school just days away - led Melendez to issue the mask mandate for Hidalgo County schools.
"The virus does not distinguish between a 2-year-old and an 80-year-old. It's still going to infect both," Melendez said.
According to Melendez, less than 20% of school age children are vaccinated, as a great deal of them aren't eligible for the vaccine. He says that's why he hopes parents understand this mandate is to protect all children.
The order is effective immediately and remains in effect for nine weeks.
There are several exceptions to the order, including anyone under the age two, anyone who is consuming drinks or food, anyone exercising outdoors and anyone with medical conditions, according to a news release.
The order also recommends social distancing of at least three feet between students in the classroom.
“I have said consistently that my actions regarding this pandemic will be based in science so I commend Dr. Melendez for his recommendation aimed at keeping our school children safe,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said in a statement. “We are seeing dramatic increases in the number of pediatric patients being admitted into our hospitals because of this disease and I support every effort to keep our children safe.”
Officials say the mandate will remain in effect unless a district's school board votes to opt out of the mandate.
This comes as in-class instruction for most Hidalgo County schools is set to begin next week.
Several school districts in the county have already issued a mask mandate, including PSJA ISD, La Joya ISD and Edinburg CISD.
Ten percent of Hidalgo County's COVID-19 hospital population is made up of pediatric patients under the age of 19, according to the news release.
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