Masks will be required for all students, teachers, staff and visitors at Richardson ISD schools beginning today. The temporary mask mandate was announced Friday by Interim Superintendent Tabitha Branum and will last for three weeks.

“This decision was made because of an unprecedented rise in positive cases among students and employees,” Branum said. “We continue to focus on the goal of keeping our schools open for in-person teaching and learning, and this is a necessary step if we hope to keep our students learning in school.”

Active positive cases in the district rose from 49 on Dec. 7 to 1,089 on Jan. 6, an increase of more than 2100%. Since returning from winter break, positive cases were triple the previous pandemic high of 367 on Sept. 3.

RISD Health Services tracks reported positive cases among students and staff by classroom, grade level and campus, but actual numbers are likely higher. Social media sites promoted by anti-mask and anti-vax groups have been encouraging parents and teachers not to test for COVID and not to report when they know they have the virus.

RISD’s mask mandate is scheduled to last three weeks, and there’s reason to believe the current surge of Omicron will have lessened by then. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday there is a good chance America will follow South Africa’s “ice-pick-shaped” curve, but she cautioned that the virus could peak in different areas of the country at different times.

RISD officials say they’ll consider additional mitigation steps on a case-by-case basis in consultation with Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS). If outbreaks occur which cause high levels of absenteeism, students in specific classrooms, grade levels or buildings may be briefly shifted to virtual instruction.

RISD (and other sources following the science) say the most effective protection against severe symptoms and hospitalization from COVID is vaccination. Vaccines are approved and widely available for people 5 and older. You may find a vaccine provider here.

RISD encourages parents to monitor their children closely and keep them home if they show COVID symptoms such as fever, runny nose, throat pain, body ache or dry cough. You may contact your child’s school nurse here. RISD is offering free testing here and free community testing is available here.

If your child has been wearing cute cloth masks for the past couple of years, health experts say it’s time to purchase a new set. Omicron is especially infectious, they say, and KN95, KF94 and N95 masks provide better filtration and protection. Oh, and you may wish to ask the teacher if your child is wearing his mask properly. The best mask in the world won’t work if he’s wearing it under his chin.