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NASD optional masking policy remains in place

The face masks-optional policy remains in place in Northampton Area School District, but that could change with only a 24-hour notice.

“Hopefully, we will not need to implement remote learning, but I wanted to provide you with an update regarding what may have to take place on a day’s notice because of the fluidity of the situation,” NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik stated in a Jan. 2 email to district parents and guardians.

NASD students, teachers and staff were back in district schools for in-person instruction Jan. 3, following the holiday break.

COVID-19 concerns continue in NASD and other Lehigh Valley school districts. Bethlehem Area School District is among area districts mandating universal masking into 2022.

Northampton County reportedly has one of highest rates of COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania.

As of Jan. 2, in Northampton County, the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases was 576, the seven-day average of deaths was three and there have been 60,175 cases of COVID-19 and 882 deaths by COVID-19, according to the USAFacts website.

Northampton County was listed as No. 5 among Pennsylvania county COVID-19 infection rates and has 64 percent, or 195,419, fully vaccinated, according to the Stacker website.

COVID-19 cases are surging in Northampton County, Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania and around the world because of the Delta variant and Omicron variant, according to health experts.

St. Luke’s University Health Network, a health care consultant to the NASD administration, supports mandatory face mask wearing in area schools following the winter holiday.

“As the country sets daily records for positive COVID-19 tests, masking can help slow the spread of the virus, including the highly contagious Omicron variant that now accounts for a majority of infections,” according to a Dec. 21, 2021, news release from St. Luke’s. “This simple step will help to protect immunocompromised students and staff and help to prevent mass outbreaks and school closures.”

“What we are experiencing now is our biggest COVID-19 surge yet,” said Jeffrey Jahre, M.D., St. Luke’s senior vice president of medical and academic affairs and section chief emeritus of infectious diseases, in the news release. “If there was ever a time for area school boards, administrators and parents to get behind masking, it’s now.

“Currently, area hospitals are caring for record or near-record numbers of COVID-19 patients. Lines for COVID-19 tests may be hours long,” Jahre said.

The district website COVID-19 dashboard seven-day building totals, Jan. 3-9, as of press time, are: Northampton Area High School, 40; Northampton Area Middle School, 22; Borough Elementary Schools, 13; Moore Elementary School, 0; Lehigh Elementary School, 12; George Wolf Elementary School, 7; and district administration, 1.

The year-to-date NASD positive cases are 678.

“As you are aware, on Dec. 6, 2021, the board of education approved an updated health and safety plan, which included optional face coverings,” Kovalchik stated in his email to families. “Even though the plan calls for optional face coverings, you have the choice to require your child to wear a face covering while in school.

“Included in the health and safety plan is a mitigation chart that may require a district school to return to mandatory face coverings based on the number of positive cases identified in a school and the evidence of community spread inside a school,” Kovalchik added. “We all understand the COVID-19 situation is a fluid situation and things seem to change daily whether it be local or across the state.

“With that being said, we will monitor all areas that could impact the ability to continue with the face covering optional plan and face-to-face in-person instruction,” Kovalchik continued. “These areas include the approved mitigation chart, as well as staff and bus driver absences. An increase in staff and/or bus driver absences may limit our ability to offer face-to-face instruction and require us to move to remote instruction.”

Kovalchik reported the first day of remote learning would be asynchronous learning, if the district moved in that direction.

“I appreciate your cooperation and understanding as we yet again face the challenges of the pandemic,” Kovalchik concluded in his Jan. 2 email.

The board of education begins its schedule of one meeting per month 7 p.m. Jan. 10 in the NAHS auditorium, 1619 Laubach Ave., Northampton.