Metro public health coalition highlights back-to-school success and next steps for in-person schooling

The Metro Denver Partnership for Health (MDPH) applauds students, parents, educators, and staff on a healthy start to this school year. “Maintaining in-person learning is one of our highest priorities,” said John M. Douglas, Jr., MD, Executive Director of Tri-County Health Department and co-chair of MDPH. “Children need to be in school for their overall health and well-being. Keeping kids in school also supports parents, businesses, and our local economies.”

Local, state, and national data show the benefits of two key interventions for maintaining safe in-person learning: required masks for indoor activities, including during periods of relatively high community transmission, and vaccination of school staff and eligible students.

Recent data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment show that COVID cases among children and adolescents are substantial but stable in communities with school mask mandates but are continuing to increase in communities that do not have this requirement. These findings are similar to those reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from a national sample.

In accordance with national and state guidelines, when universal masking is used there is no need to quarantine vaccinated individuals and other persons in a classroom with a single COVID case. Masking decreases the risk of transmission in the classroom, reduces the number of individuals who need to quarantine, and helps to prevent outbreaks.

Vaccination is the way of getting back to a normal long-term routine for this and future school years. The benefits of vaccination for students are already evident in Colorado: Communities with higher vaccine coverage among 12-to-17-year-old students have lower pediatric COVID case rates. Vaccination rates are increasing in the 12–to-17-year-old group, but in some communities across the metro area, the rate is still under 25%. MDPH encourages all eligible individuals to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Vaccinations are free (no insurance coverage required), available to anyone 12 years of age or older, and can be obtained through community pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics.

“We anticipate that children 5-11 years of age will become eligible for vaccination later this fall or winter,” said Jason Vahling, director of Broomfield Public Health and Environment and MDPH co-chair. “Increasing the number of vaccinated individuals in schools will reduce COVID-19 transmission, keep students safer, and enable the relaxation of mitigation efforts like masking.”

Right now, universal masking is critical for safe in-person learning, especially among students who are not currently eligible for vaccination. “We understand the desire to remove a mask mandate when it is safe to do so. We also share the community’s priority of maintaining high levels of in-person learning,” said Bill Burman, MD, Executive Director of Denver Public Health. “To accomplish this goal, we should proceed cautiously. We will use local data and the advice of expert groups, work with our school leaders, and look at experiences in other states to inform our decisions.”

MDPH will be closely monitoring key COVID-19 indicators such as vaccination coverage and case rates among school-aged children and rates of transmission in the community, especially over the upcoming months of colder weather when metro area case rates spiked substantially last year. These metrics will help determine when masking and quarantine are no longer required to keep in-person learning safe.

MDPH is led by six public health agencies serving the seven-county Denver metro area: Boulder County Public Health, Broomfield Department of Public Health and Environment, Denver Department of Public Health & Environment, Denver Public Health, Jefferson County Public Health, and Tri-County Health Department, serving Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties. MDPH’s work impacts more than 3 million Coloradans — 60% of the state’s population — who live in this region. MDPH is supported and staffed by the Colorado Health Institute (CHI). More information can be found on CHI’s website at https://colo.health/MDPH.

This press release was provided by the Colorado Health Institute.