**FILE** Students at Bond Mill Elementary in Laurel walk toward a school bus after dismissal from school on Feb. 25. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** Students at Bond Mill Elementary in Laurel walk toward a school bus after dismissal from school on Feb. 25. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

After Prince George’s County Public Schools instituted a mask optional policy in the buildings last month, the state of Maryland’s second-largest school system reverted to requiring masks.

The mandate went into effect Monday as teachers are going back into the buildings in preparation for the new school year that begins Aug. 29.

“This decision was recommended by the Prince George’s County Health Department,” according to an email from the school district sent to the school community Friday. “When responding to public health threats such as COVID-19, Maryland school districts have flexibility in determining mask-wearing policies.”

The correspondence states the mask policy can change based on local and state health department guidance and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The federal agency notes the highly contagious BA.5 omicron subvariant accounts for the most coronavirus cases in the U.S. and 40% of counties in the “high COVID-19 community level.”

Prince George’s and Montgomery counties in Maryland represent the only two jurisdictions in the D.C. area ranked with high community levels by the CDC.

Although Prince George’s has a high level, the county’s data between July 31 and Aug. 6 shows the new weekly cases at 1,635, or a decrease of 10%.

During that same timeframe, the county recorded six deaths compared to five the previous week.

Prince George’s has recorded the second highest number of confirmed cases in the state with more than 200,000 and the fifth highest percentage of residents fully vaccinated at nearly 77%.

Three other counties in Maryland sit in the high level, all located near the Eastern Shore: Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester.

Counties labeled as high are recommended by the CDC to wear masks indoors in public and on public transportation and get a COVID-19 test if a person experiences any symptoms such as a sore throat, fever, chills, or muscle and body aches.

In Northern Virginia, Fauquier, Stafford and Arlington counties are ranked medium and Fairfax and Loudoun counties are ranked low community level where masks aren’t necessary.

The COVID-19 level in the District remains medium where residents “may choose to wear a mask at any time” as a precaution. However, the agency suggests people wear a mask on public transportation.

Meanwhile, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced in June all students enrolled in public, charter and private schools must receive up-to-date vaccines and immunizations before the first day of school. Students 12 and older are required to receive full COVID-19 vaccination, if fully approved for their age group and not just for emergency use. 

Phyllis Wright of District Heights in neighboring Prince George’s County said county officials should follow the D.C. path in requiring vaccinations for teenagers in the schools.

“I keep masks on my kids. This is a pandemic,” said Wright, whose two daughters are fully vaccinated and will begin sixth and eighth grade this month. “I have never seen anything like this in my life. I lost a lot of family members from COVID. I hope these parents vaccinate their children.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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