School board

Norman Public Schools Superintendent Nick Migliorino speaks during a meeting recently. The board will decide during a meeting Monday whether to make wearing masks optional across the district effective this week.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Oklahoma and vaccination rates not nearly where health officials want them, the Cleveland County Health Department has released health guidance for students in anticipation of the fast-approaching school year.

According to the latest epidemiology report from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, released last week, 38% of new COVID cases were among Oklahoma’s youth (ages 15-24) and young adults (ages 25-34). As schools prepare to return next month, the trend is worrisome to health officials.

These age groups also have the lowest vaccination rates in the state, leaving them at higher risk for infection. While there still no approved vaccination options for younger Americans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is actively encouraging those 12 and older to get vaccinated.

Very few Oklahomans ages 15-24 are vaccinated, leaving them most susceptible to COVID-19 and its variants. The health department is urging those young Oklahomans to get vaccinated, since just 0.071% of vaccinated Oklahomans have experienced a breakthrough COVID case, the county health department said in a press release.

While the best way to prevent infection is by getting vaccinated, health officials say those who don’t intend on getting vaccinated or still can’t should make other mitigation efforts.

“The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19, including more transmissible variants like the Delta variant, is to get vaccinated. It may not seem like a priority when you’re young, but COVID can cause severe illness or hospitalization at any age,” Jackie Kanak, regional director at the Cleveland County Health Department, said in a statement. “We’ve seen the impact vaccines have had on our community and hope to empower unprotected individuals to make the best decision for themselves and their health as we head into a new school year.”

Oklahoma has issued guidance for those returning to school, including five key prevention strategies: Universal and correct use of masks, prioritizing physical distancing, washing hands, cleaning facilities and keeping up with contact tracing.

Due to a law signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, schools cannot require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19, nor can they require that masks be worn.

In a newsletter to parents Tuesday, Norman Public Schools said the district will not be requiring masks because of that law.

The district also released some guidelines for the upcoming school year, specifying that though NPS community members who are “consistently wearing a mask” or are fully vaccinated will not be required to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19, those who do not wear a mask or choose not to get vaccinated will more than likely have to quarantine if exposed.

The district will continue enhanced sanitation measures and the use of air purifying systems, and will encourage, but not require social distancing.

For more information on NPS’ plans for the school year, visit the district’s website.

Reese Gorman covers COVID-19, local politics and elections for The Transcript; reach him at rgorman@normantranscript.com or @reeseg_3.

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Staff Writer

Reese Gorman covers elections, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic for The Norman Transcript. He started as an intern in May of 2020 and transitioned into his current position as a staff writer in August of 2020.