Gov. Andy Beshear says he’s signing a new executive order Tuesday that will require all students, staff and visitors at K-12 schools and preschools to wear a mask.
The order will apply to both private and public schools, for everyone aged two and up.
“I’m gonna have the courage to do what I know is right,” Beshear said during Tuesday’s press briefing. “This is how we make sure we protect our children, but this is also how we make sure that they stay in school.”
In defending his decision, the governor pointed to rising hospitalizations due to the delta variant of COVID-19. Experts say the delta variant is causing more infection among children than the original COVID-19 virus and some children have ended up in the ICU. He also noted that several districts that started the school year without mandates have already had to institute mass quarantines.
Warren County Public Schools did not require masks during the first week of school. 100 students tested positive and more than 700 students and staff had to quarantine.
Without mask mandates, Beshear said, “we have already seen…that our kids will not stay in school, they will not get in-person learning, we will have massive quarantines, we’ll have parents that can’t go to work.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal masking in K-12 indoor settings and research shows mask mandates have been effective at curbing the spread of COVID-19. Beshear had been encouraging districts to issue their own mandates at the local level. But as of last Friday, about two-thirds of districts still planned to start the school year or had started the school year without a requirement.
On Monday and Tuesday, several districts announced a shift from a recommendation to a mandate after seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases among children and mass quarantines in some districts. Most, however, still had intended to move forward without a mandate.
The executive order is likely to be contentious among some conservatives. Beshear’s coronavirus restrictions drew numerous lawsuits from people who said the limits infringed on their personal freedoms, and mask mandates have become highly politicized.