Most Kentucky School Districts Keeping Mask Mandates as State Becomes COVID Hotspot

School boards for nearly three-fourths of Kentucky school districts opted to keep mask mandates as the state establishes itself as a COVID-19 hotspot for the U.S., the Associated Press reported. The extensions come as a statewide mask mandate for public schools approved by the state school board is scheduled to end Friday after Kentucky's Republican-led legislature voted to overturn it.

The legislature banned any other statewide mask rules until June 2023, but gave individual school districts the power to decide whether or not to require masks, the AP reported. At least 122 of the 171 public school districts in Kentucky decided to maintain their masking requirements by mid-Wednesday, according to the Kentucky School Boards Association.

Kentucky is seeing one of the highest rates of infection in the country and record numbers of hospitalizations due to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. School-age children are contracting COVID-19 at a higher rate than any other age group, while statewide vaccination rates in children between 12- and 17-years-old are the lowest out of all age groups, the AP reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Kentucky Residents Protest COVID Measures
As Kentucky becomes a COVID-19 hotspot, most schools districts opted to extend mask requirements. People display signs protesting mask and vaccine mandates during the Kentucky Freedom Rally at the capitol building on August 28 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Jon Cherry/Getty Images

A southcentral Kentucky district announced that a teacher died as a result of "complications from COVID-19." The Caverna Independent School District, in a social media post, said it suffered a "devastating loss" with the death of high school math teacher Amanda Nutt.

Governor Andy Beshear has exhorted local school leaders to maintain the mask-wearing policy, calling it the "one right answer" to protect students and staff and keep schools open.

The Democratic governor used mask mandates to combat previous coronavirus surges, but lawmakers blocked his ability to take such unilateral action.

The Caverna Independent district became the latest school system to suffer the virus-related death of a staff member. Nutt tested positive for COVID-19 the weekend before the school term started in late August, Caverna High School Principal Chris Crain said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Nutt was "loved and cherished by her students, and she always wanted the best for them," Crain said. Nutt was not vaccinated, he said.

The Caverna school board decided Tuesday to continue requiring that masks be worn in schools, regardless of vaccination status. The district said masks will be required as long as the county remains in the high-incidence "red zone" for virus cases and until it's out of "red" for at least seven consecutive days. At that point, the issue will be revisited.

Lee County schools, which has had two staff members die from COVID-19, also announced Wednesday it would keep its universal masking policy for the time being. The eastern Kentucky district will reconsider the rule in October, with the hope of changing the policy if the county were to move out of the "red zone," Lee County schools Superintendent Sarah Wasson said. The local school board voted Tuesday to maintain universal masking.

"We are in a time right now when incidence rates are high and universal masking is helping us maintain in-person learning," Wasson said in a letter posted to social media.

Meanwhile, in response to supply shortages of monoclonal antibody treatments, state governments will now supervise the distribution of a capped number of treatments delivered to them each week, Beshear announced Tuesday. Kentucky health care providers will no longer be able to order the treatments directly.

"I have a concern that some Kentuckians who are hesitant about the vaccine are placing faith in monoclonal antibodies," Beshear said. "That thing you're counting on might not be available. What is available, and there are no supply issues at all, are these safe and effective vaccines."

Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky's public health commissioner, explained that while the treatments offer a temporary immune boost, they do not teach a patient's body how to create its own antibodies like the vaccines.

"It's a lot easier to get vaccinated than to get monoclonal antibodies," Stack added.

Kentucky COVID Surge
"I have a concern that some Kentuckians who are hesitant about the vaccine are placing faith in monoclonal antibodies," Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said. A member of Louisville Metro EMS tends to a patient experiencing a COVID-19 emergency outside his home on September 13 in Louisville, Kentucky. Jon Cherry/Getty Images