Newton County School System superintendent announces temporary mask mandate

Newton County School System's superintendent announced the district enacted a temporary mask mandate on Friday, citing an increase in COVID-19 cases

A statement from the school district did not provide a timeline or criteria for revoking the temporary mandate. 

"This decision was not taken lightly," Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey. "In only five days of school, we’ve had over 80 confirmed positive cases of student infection and over 200 students have been sent home to quarantine. We tried the mask-optional status but now must revert to requiring mask usage due to the considerable spike in cases."

The district said the spike is higher than the average weekly cases from the 2020-21 spring semester. The district said the Gwinnett Newton Rockdale Health Department confirmed the increase in infection rate among children in Newton County.

"Our primary concern is the health and safety of our students and staff," said Fuhrey. "As such, we must move forward with a temporary mask mandate until such time that the number positive cases decrease in our schools and community. Newton County is currently identified as having a high rate of transmission of COVID-19 and those numbers are trending upward. Unfortunately, we’ve also been informed that less than 33 percent of the total population of Newton County has been vaccinated which contributes to the spread of the virus in our community. On behalf of our students and staff, I encourage everyone in Newton County, if you are eligible, please get the vaccination. We must do everything we can if we are going to keep our schools open without interruption throughout the school year."

MORE: Mask policies for each school district in metro Atlanta

Fuhrey cited federal sources supporting the effectiveness of wearing face coverings when it comes to slowing the spread of the virus.

"The CDC has data to reflect that masks work if they are worn and cared for properly," Fuhrey said. "All masks need to be worn properly to cover the nose and mouth and cloth masks should also be laundered regularly."

She emphasized handwashing and social distancing as other prevention methods.

"I know everyone has tired of me stressing the Three W’s but it’s so important," she said. "Wash your hands frequently, wear a mask, and watch your distance. These are three simple, yet very effective strategies to help prevent the spread of this virus."

While the mask rule is in effect, Fuhrey said schools will have masks available for students and staff.

"I know this will not be a popular decision among many of our families, but it is the best course of action to protect our students and staff," said Fuhrey. "No one likes wearing a mask. I understand that. But if parents and the community want our children to be able to attend school in person we must do this---at least for now. It is my sincere hope we can move back to the mask-optional status once the numbers trend downward, and we see a reduction in the rate of transmission of COVID-19."

WATCH: FOX 5 Atlanta live news coverage


Sign up for FOX 5 email alerts

Download the FOX 5 Atlanta app for breaking news and weather alerts.