COVID: OR schools pass mask requirement, FDA gives full approval to Pfizer vaccine

Monday, the Oak Ridge School Board voted 3-1 to require masks to be worn inside all of the city’s schools.

The mask mandate approved Monday will require masks indoors in school buildings unless the system receives a written opt-out notice from a parent or guardian to comply with the executive order issued by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee last week allowing for those opt-outs.

Cases of COVID-19 have been reported in all of the city schools since classes resumed on July 28th.  You may recall that earlier this month,  Superintendent Bruce Borchers implemented mask mandates in three schools—Jefferson and Robertsville Middle Schools, and Willow Brook Elementary School—but rescinded them following Governor Lee’s order. 

Similar mask requirements have been put in place at four Anderson County schools due to rising case numbers, namely Lake City and Norwood Middle, and Briceville and Grand Oaks Elementary Schools. 

The vote came on Monday, the same day that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued full authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for individuals age 16 and up. The vaccine remains under emergency use authorization (EUA) for those age 12-15 years and for the administration of the third dose option for individuals who are moderately or severely immunocompromised.

The full licensed approval from the FDA is given after more than 9 months of data review and continued case study. The Pfizer vaccine has been available in Tennessee since December 2020 with approximately 3.4 million Pfizer doses administered to date.  Many people who have been hesitant to get the vaccine have cited a lack of full approval from the FDA among their reasons.

In a press release Monday, officials with the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) reminded Tennesseans that COVID-19 vaccines are “our best defense in preventing the continued spread of the virus.”

Vaccination rates across the state have increased over the last month as the state experiences a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious Delta variant. In particular, younger Tennesseans are choosing to receive the vaccine with the highest rate of increases in the 12-15, and 16-20-year-old age groups.

According to our partners at Oak Ridge Today, new daily vaccinations have roughly doubled in Anderson County in the 40 days since COVID-19 cases began increasing in this new summer surge.

However, Oak Ridge Today notes that the increase in the seven-day average of daily vaccinations has not been as large as the increase in cases, according to calculations by the online publication, which also points out that less than 50 percent of county residents are fully vaccinated.

As of Monday afternoon, there were 624 active COVID-19 cases in Anderson County, with Campbell County reporting 334 and Morgan County 126.  Roane County is seeing the highest number of active cases in WYSH’s immediate service area with 633.

Additional guidance from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is expected later this week, according to the TDH, which went on to encourage providers to review that guidance once released. TDH says that it will adhere to ACIP guidance regarding the administration of the vaccine. In addition, officials state that “we are taking the necessary steps at our county health departments in anticipation of continued demand.”

Visit www.Vaccines.gov to find a vaccine site offering the Pfizer vaccine. In addition, local health departments across the state will be administering the COVID-19 vaccine with no appointment necessary.

Individuals seeking more information on the COVID-19 vaccines can visit the state’s comprehensive online COVID information hub, covid19.tn.gov 

To schedule an appointment with a local vaccine provider, visit www.vaccines.gov .

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:30 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH & WQLA. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, and cats Oliver, Bow and Libby.

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