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Medical Education Panel charged with answering masking question

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Oct 19, 2021

The School District of Lee County Medical Education Panel, which is having their second meeting today, have been charged by the superintendent to answer the question of when are masks may be optional for staff.

“They had one meeting already and they are convening this Wednesday,” Superintendent Dr. Ken Savage said.

With the top question from staff of when masks are coming off, Savage said he has charged the group that the question must be resolved first at their meeting.

“We don’t want to rush the experts in their work, however we also recognize this is the No. 1 thing that is being asked,” he said. “We will have that decision no later than Friday, Oct. 22.”

Board Chair Debbie Jordan said the decision of making masks optional for staff was said to be made two weeks ago at their board meeting.

“This is their top order to get their masking piece,” Savage replied.

Board member Mary Fischer asked if there is discussion around people removing their mask while speaking, and if that can be applied to teachers in the classroom standing six to 10 feet away from students because it is critical that students see the teacher’s expressions.

The panel includes experts from Lee Health, Golisano Children’s Hospital, FSU, Lee Physicians Group, North Cape Pediatrics, Florida Gulf Coast University, the district’s curriculum group, professional development and their ESE department.

“The goal of that team really is to create a tiered matrix and that really determines when we ramp up and conversely when we relax all of our mitigation protocols,” Savage said during a workshop Monday afternoon. “I recognize the one that everyone cares about is masking. That is really just one of them, but it is all in conjunction with that.”

The first meeting of the panel was to set the levels and the right metrics to use to make decisions.

“Despite the fact that masking is important, what you are basing your decision on is truly the most important thing. It was unanimously decided that the community transmission level would be the data that we would use to initiate this matrix,” Savage said.

The data used would include the positivity rate and the number of new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days. Savage said Monday that Lee County’s current positivity rate is 5.43 percent, which is a wonderfully low number.

“The case rate is still high with 72.54. That places Lee County in the substantial transmission category. The community transmission is locally separated into four levels, low, moderate, substantial and high,” he said.

Savage said the panel is currently reviewing and ranking all of the district’s mitigation strategies to really determine at what level the strategy should be at play based on the community transmission rate.

“Preliminary information that we received from that panel definitely indicates that high and substantial transmission that masking would be required. However, certainly it should be optional during low transmission. Where we will have conversation is in that moderate range and that is where we want to make sure we get all the medical responses on that piece,” Savage said.