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Idaho Department of Health & Welfare 'very concerned' about how some schools handle COVID guidelines

“We know that wearing masks work and they're an important tool for schools to be using,” said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, public health administrator.

BOISE, Idaho — Public health officials with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare say they're concerned about how some school districts are handling COVID-19.

“We have seen changes in schools and how they're operating, and it is very concerning,” said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Administrator of Public Health.

In some instances, schools have closed or switched to remote learning within the first two weeks of kids back in class. Shaw-Tulloch’s remarks during Tuesday's Idaho Health and Welfare COVID-19 media briefing came just minutes before State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn called West Ada School District’s decision to now require masks for teachers and staff, “a step in the right direction.”

She also revealed her own kids are in the Boise School District, and said she's glad it has a mask mandate in place. 

RELATED: Idaho's substitute teacher shortage leads to some schools cancelling class

So, is it safe for young, unvaccinated kids to be in school?

“We know that wearing masks work and they're an important tool for schools to be using,” Shaw-Tulloch said.

Hahn echoed those sentiments.

“I think we believe that is the best way to keep schools open and to keep kids safe, and we'll just keep iterating that I think time will show that I think West Ada is maybe already heading in that direction and realizing that masks are going to protect teachers and keep outbreaks from happening and keep kids in schools," Hahn said. "We hope other schools districts do the same thing."

Are there more steps that could be or could have been taken as schools open? On Tuesday’s call, Hahn revealed that she believed so.

“I strongly think that mask wearing -- whether it’s through requirements or through the culture or encouragement and voluntary -- I feel like kids are safer, teachers are safer and staff are safer if everyone is vaccinated who can be vaccinated and everyone who can is wearing a mask and of course as much social distancing as possible which, with this weather, is still possible to a large extent,” Hahn said.

She adds there are other things that can be done that aren't talked about as much. For example, schools can look at its ventilation systems. She acknowledges many schools are already doing the right things.

The state is offering financial support to schools to help them with COVID response efforts. As of Tuesday, 17 school districts have contacted them through the registration site on the Idaho State Department of Education website to let them know they're interested in exploring this, according to Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Turner.

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