Despite 'opt-out' policy, Hamilton County Schools asks all students to wear masks as COVID-19 forces closures across region

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Orchard Knob Middle School Assistant Principal Michael Calloway squirts sanitizer onto students hands as they arrive for the first day of school. Orchard Knob Middle School started the 2021-2022 school year under a Hamilton County Schools system wide mask mandate on August 9, 2021, because of the surge in the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.

Schools across the Chattanooga region that just started the new academic year are struggling to control COVID-19 as the highly contagious delta variant drives cases among largely unvaccinated students - prompting Hamilton County Schools to ask all students to wear face masks and forcing some schools to close altogether.

Nakia Towns, interim superintendent for Hamilton County Schools, said in an online recording Tuesday that 596 students had tested positive for COVID-19 so far this month, surpassing the district's previous high-water mark of 509 reported cases in December 2020 with a week still left to go in August.

"We are in a difficult moment. ... Today alone, we've gotten reports of 55 new student cases as of this recording," Towns said. "Though parents have a choice in the masking decision for your child, I am asking you to make a choice that will help keep our students safe and on campus for school, and that choice is for your child to wear a mask every day until the current wave is over."