OAK CREEK — The Oak Creek Health Department is calling for that community's school district board to require masks in schools, with health officials arguing in a letter Tuesday that the school district is experiencing one of the highest rates of cases among students in Milwaukee County.
Oak Creek Health Department Officer Darcy DuBois and Oak Creek Pediatrics Medical Advisor Steven Jereb wrote to the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District Board of Education that "All students are entitled to a safe learning environment, and currently, students in the Oak Creek-Franklin School District are not learning in the safest environment."
They note that confirmed coronavirus cases have increased "significantly" in the last month, with Oak Creek averaging 17 new cases per day as of Oct. 1. That's compared to an average of 11 at the beginning of September.
In a statement to TMJ4 News, School District Superintendent Daniel Unertl did not indicate the board will be taking action on the health department's recommendation:
"We respect the position of the Oak Creek Health Department and appreciate their continued advocacy. We also respect the decisions of our OCFSD families to do what’s best for their children as it relates to quarantining and masks. In the last week, we have seen a decline in the number of positive cases in our schools. We continue to encourage our community to follow the guidance of the health department and have implemented mitigation strategies such as providing on-site COVID-19 testing at District Office, coordinating contact tracing with the Oak Creek Health Department, hosting vaccinations clinics and maintaining hand sanitizing stations in all our schools to help keep our students and community safe."
The health officials continue in their letter that the percent of cases among school-aged children in Oak Creek has increased significantly since the school year began. In August, 21% of total COVID-19 cases were among school-aged children, while in September, 34% of COVID-19 cases have been among school-aged children, according to DuBois and Jereb. That means Oak Creek leads Milwaukee County proportionally with the highest rates of COVID-19, they said.
Health officials say some of their COVID-19-related recommendations have been deployed by the school district - such as making testing accessible to the community and working with the health department on contract tracing - but that "we remain very concerned that several of the strongest mitigation strategies are not currently in place at OCFSD, including universal masking and quarantine of close contacts," they write.
"The most effective tool to prevent widespread in-school transmission of COVID-19 is the universal use of face masks by all students and staff," according to their letter, which cites a recent CDC report studying the relationship between masking and school outbreaks.
"The Oak Creek-Franklin School District is hereby advised to implement the universal use of face masks for all students and staff, except when medically inappropriate. We must continue to work together to implement strategies to keep students, staff, and the community safe and to allow schools to continue to provide safe, in-person learning for students in the Oak Creek-Franklin School District," DuBois and Jereb conclude.
Click here to read their letter.
Click here to view the school district's COVID-19 dashboard.