The Diocese of Nashville’s Catholic schools will continue requiring individuals to wear a mask while indoors on campuses and on buses.
“After a comprehensive assessment of our data and upon advice of a medical team, we have deemed it necessary to retain the mask protocol for the next four-week period,” diocesan Superintendent of Schools Rebecca Hammel wrote in a letter to Catholic school parents issued on Wednesday, Sept. 29.
The masking requirement was announced in August as Tennessee was experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. At that time, diocesan officials said the policy would be re-evaluated every four weeks.
School officials have been reporting information about the number of cases and the number of students quarantined daily since the policy was put in place. Daily and weekly totals of the number of COVID cases and number of people in quarantine are reported daily at www.dioceseofnashville.com.
The panel of medical doctors advising the diocesan Schools Office included a representative from each of the medical advisory teams of five diocesan schools. “On the panel was a pulmonologist and critical care physician, an (emergency room) physician, a chief medical officer, an infectious disease doctor, and a pediatrician,” Hammel wrote.
The panelists are employed by Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital and Hospital Corporation of America, she added. “They represent Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner and Williamson counties.
“All five doctors agreed that now is not the time to remove masks,” Hammel said. “This recommendation was shared with our diocesan team, who also reviewed the data and supports the recommendation.
“While we have seen improvement in our schools’ case counts since masking began Sept. 1, we wish to see a longer trend of minimal cases,” Hammel said. “Additionally, our students will experience fall break, either the week of Oct. 4 or the week of Oct. 11, during which many families will travel. The teams believed our next evaluation date, Oct. 27, is timely in that any spread of infection due to travel will have run its course.”
The number of new cases and new quarantines and isolations reached a peak the week of Aug. 30, the first week the universal masking protocol was in place, with 79 new cases and 240 new quarantines.
Since then, the number of new cases has decreased to 50 during the week of Sept. 6, 41 the week of Sept. 13, and 13 the week of Sept. 20. The number of new quarantines reflected a similar downward trend, totaling 84 the week of Sept. 6, 101 the week of Sept. 13, and 25, the week of Sept. 20.
“We are cautiously optimistic, as were the panelists, that our counties may soon reach the point where our mask protocol may return to optional for families,” Hammel said. “As always, I thank you for your support as we strive to preserve healthy school environments and to do our part in mitigating community spread for the common good.”