LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Students at four Catholic high schools around Louisville will no longer have to wear masks starting Monday regardless of vaccination status.
But with the omicron variant spreading, doctors say now is the time to practice basic mitigation strategies, not take them away.
"Now may not be the best time to think about repealing mass mandates, in light of a new, potentially much more contagious variant," said Dr. Mark Burns, an infectious diseases specialist at UofL Health.
Mask-optional policies at Sacred Heart Academy, St. Xavier High School, Assumption High School and DeSales High School will start Monday. All students, regardless of vaccination status, are eligible to go mask-free.
According to Assumption Hih School administrators, they haven't had a positive COVID-19 case in 5 weeks.
They're monitoring cases in the area and will reinstate a mandate if there is a surge.
DeSales High Schools President Rick Blackwell said students have to wear masks to mandatory large gatherings, such as mass or assemblies.
Blackwell said DeSales will also have buffer weeks, meaning the week after Christmas break, students have to wear masks.
Trinity High School implemented the new mask optional policy today for all students, but administrators said because of local case rates, they'll still have to mask up next week.
Mercy Academy's mask-optional policy starts Jan. 3 for all students
Two Catholic high schools already implemented mask-optional policies.
Earlier this week, vaccinated students at Holy Cross High didn't need masks. Unvaccinated students still had to wear them.
Bethlehem High School in Bardstown rolled back their mandate last month as well for all students regardless of vaccination status.
Presentation Academy did not respond to WHAS11's inquiries on their masking policy.
According to the Archdiocese of Louisville, only high schools are allowed to implement mask optional policies.
No decision has been made yet about Catholic elementary schools in the area.
During a scheduled COVID-19 briefing Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear, D-Kentucky, said universal masking is necessary to keep kids in school.
"Going mask-optional is a recipe for disaster for spreading the virus and for missing out on days of school," Beshear said.
Dr. Sarah Moyer, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, keeps kids learning in the classroom rather than at home because they're sick or having to quarantine is best for children's social, intellectual and emotional wellness.
"Locally and across the state, we're seeing COVID19 cases rising again," Dr. Moyer said. "We also have the potential to experience a new variant we frankly don't know much about at the moment. I encourage all schools to follow CDC guidance and keep mask-wearing in place. To keep our community safe, and hospitals from being overwhelmed, we all need to practice the layers of protection and prevention that we know work: mask-wearing indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces, getting vaccinated and boosted, regular testing and good hand washing."