After the Tri-County Health Department’s recent reintroduction of mask mandates in schools throughout the area, many students at Regis Jesuit are left wondering what the future holds in terms of COVID-19 restrictions. When might mask mandates be lifted? Should I get vaccinated, and will they be required for students in the future? What was the point of vaccinations if masks are mandated anyway?
“The feedback has been mixed,” said Melissa Sager, the policy and intergovernmental affairs manager at Tri-County Health Department. “Ideally, we would not have to have a mandate. In public health, we don’t take that measure lightly.”
Sager works closely with community leaders to address public health issues, which means she receives regular feedback on things like mask mandates and vaccination pushes.
According to Sager, one of the chief complaints that parents and students alike have had throughout this pandemic relate to mental health.
“There’s no evidence that shows that masks negatively impact mental health, but we do know that interruptions to learning and routine negatively impact mental health,” she said.
Regardless of the mental health impacts created by these interruptions, many still wonder when mask mandates might be lifted. According to Sager, there isn’t an exact number that determines health policy.
“We’re looking at several data points but also recommendations from experts like the CDC or the American Academy of Pediatrics,” she said. “We’re also talking to our schools’ leaders and asking what they’re seeing in their own classrooms.”
Right now, the CDC recommends universal mask-wearing in any region with high transmission rates.
Some people are frustrated with the mandate after such a strong push for vaccination.
“It’s a bit of a sticky situation. We all got vaccinated so that we wouldn’t have to wear masks, and then they required it anyway,” Regis Jesuit junior Lucas Smith ‘23 said.
Rates of vaccination are a data point that Tri-County monitors and tries to increase when deciding on regulations for the area, but they currently aren’t high enough for mask requirements to be lifted.
Some might suggest that the natural next step to protecting students is to create a vaccination mandate, but Sager says that requiring the vaccine isn’t within Tri-County’s jurisdiction. Instead, vaccine requirements in schools are set by the state health department.
Even though they can’t impose requirements on vaccinations, both Tri-County Health and Regis Jesuit are taking important steps to encourage people to get vaccinated on their own accord using a variety of means.
“One of the biggest things is making the vaccine as easily accessible as possible. We make it very easy to get the vaccine by placing clinics at events or offering incentives to get it,” said Sager.
The other approach is educating the public. “There’s lots of communication. We address concerns and answer questions people have about the vaccine proactively,” she said.
Tri-County Health and the state health department have spread the word through guidance documents, social media posts, and billboards to encourage vaccinations throughout Colorado.
Kelli Lotito, the campus safety director at Regis Jesuit, has played a pivotal role in implementing school health measures throughout the pandemic. She says that the school has taken similar measures to help with getting the community vaccinated.
One method of making the vaccine more available was to bring a mobile vaccine clinic to the campus during a Friday afternoon football game.
“It’s really a partnership, and it gives us the ability to work with the community to provide the site for the clinic to be right there,” says Lotito.
The school is also taking steps to provide more information to people about vaccines. “There was a nice newscast in the school announcements about vaccines, and in our parent communications, we’ve listed information about vaccination sites,” says Lotito.
The current student vaccination rate at Regis Jesuit is 71.7%. Although the majority of Regis Jesuit students are protected, it remains important to slow the spread of disease with mask-wearing and continuing to push for greater rates of vaccination. Tri-County’s Sager said the latter is the key to more freedom, especially in places like schools with so much interaction.
“Vaccines are the number one way out of this, and they’re more necessary in high-risk settings.”