COLUMBIA, Md. (WJZ) — Howard County public schools will require masks for all students, staff and visitors in school buildings during the 2021-2022 academic year, effective immediately, Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano announced on Friday.

Masks will also be required on school buses, but not when students or staff are eating and drinking inside or when they are outside.

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In a release, the school system said the decision complies with guidance from the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Howard County Health Department to return to universal indoor masking.

Matriano said the decision was not easy, but universal mask use will help keep schools open.

“The health and safety of our staff and students is of utmost concern,” Martirano said in a statement. “There is a rise in COVID-19 cases and we have a significant portion of students who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, which necessitates layering mitigation strategies. The use of face masks has proven to be an effective measure at preventing the spread of COVID-19 and universal indoor masking will aid in allowing us to keep schools open.”

“It’s for the safety of all the kids and the administrators and teachers in the school,” said parent Cynthia Khan.

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Educators Linda and Steven Isberg agree with the decision.

“At least in elementary school, with students not being able to be vaccinated, that would be the right thing to do,” said teacher Linda Isberg.

“We protect the most vulnerable among us. And if wearing a mask is what it takes, then wear a mask,” said Steven Isberg, a college professor.

The school system will continue offering free meals for all students, keeping a supply of personal protective equipment such as masks and disinfectant wipes, and putting up protective plexiglass barriers.

During the summer, workers replaced 12,439 air filters in the HVAC units of all school buildings to ensure proper air quality in the classroom.

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Administrators in Baltimore County and Frederick County have also announced “universal masking” policies for the upcoming school year as well as Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Paul Gessler