At a Board of Supervisors budget public hearing Feb. 24 Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) pushed unsuccessfully for a vote to remove the masking requirement at county-run preschools—but that requirement could still be lifted soon.
Buffington said he’s heard from parents of preschoolers who are confused and upset by the requirement—masks cannot be required in programs run by Loudoun County Public Schools, but they are still required at preschools operated by Loudoun County government, a separate branch of local government.
“It’s putting our staff who are having to enforce the mask policy in a very bad position, and they’re dealing with often very angry, and rightfully so, parents who believe that they have the choice,” Buffington said. “And they don’t see the difference between county-run and LCPS-run preschool.” He sought to have the rule lifted effective Monday.
But his attempt to suspend the board’s usual rules of order and get a decision that night was voted down 5-3. He was joined by Supervisors Caleb E. Kershner and Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg).
Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) pointed out that infection rates for people in that age group are already below the rates of infection in CDC guidelines on masking. But she voted against holding the vote that night, instead planning for a vote Tuesday, March 1.
“I’m going to make this motion on Tuesday. On Tuesday [Loudoun Health Director] Dr. [David] Goodfriend will be here, he can answer any questions. On Tuesday it gives people time who want to come to the board and talk to us,” Randall said. “To do this right now without any public notice whatsoever, I think, is inappropriate.”
With the county overall nearing those CDC guidelines, below which the county will remove the masking requirement for all visitors to county facilities, Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) said she wouldn’t support the motion even then.
“We already gave staff direction with metrics. Staff already told us they were following those directions already with the CDC guidance. I trust that parents are smart enough to know where they have enrolled their children,” Briskman said. “…We really don’t need to be spending our time and energy on this, because as we’ve done from the very beginning, we’ve been following the science and the math and we should continue to do that.”
The CDC’s guidance recommends taking every mitigation measure such as masking and social distancing when the number of new cases per 100,000 people over 7 days is 50 or more, and the 8% or more of COVID-19 tests over the previous 7 days were positive. The Virginia Health Department reports numbers differently, reporting a single-day average based on averaging the previous seven days; to drop below the CDC guidelines, the state’s rolling seven-day average would have to be at or below 7.1 cases per 100,000.
However, the CDC is expected to announce new guidelines today that could mean masks come off sooner. Because Loudoun supervisors took a vote on when masks come off in county buildings—based on the existing CDC policy, a policy that was already in place under County Administrator Tim Hemstreet’s decision—Loudoun County facilities may end up taking longer to remove the masking requirement, as doing so may require another vote by the Board of Supervisors rather than an administrative decision by Hemstreet.