FILE - In-person pandemic learning

Students in fifth grade wear masks as they wait for their teacher in the classroom at Oak Terrace Elementary School in Highwood, Illinois.

(The Center Square) – Masks are very likely coming back to public schools in Wisconsin.

The state’s Department of Health Services on Wednesday announced that it supports new Centers for Disease Control guidelines that suggest masks for everyone in K-12 schools, regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated.

“The new recommendations, which are based on the most up-to-date information about the Delta variant of COVID-19, will be reflected in all DHS guidance,” DHS said in its announcement.

DHS has been clear that it cannot order local schools to require masks for students and teachers. Local school boards and superintendents make those decisions in Wisconsin.

But the recommendations from the CDC and the Department of Health Services go a long way in shaping those decisions.

The latest guidance from DHS recommends:

  • All teachers, staff, students, and visitors of K-12 schools should wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
  • Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, who lives in areas with substantial and high transmission as noted on this CDC map should wear masks in public indoor settings.

Many Wisconsin schools were already planning to require masks for kids under 12 who are not eligible for the coronavirus vaccine this fall. Older kids would have a choice about wearing a mask. Green Bay Schools, for example, approved that kind of hybrid policy on Monday.

DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the number of coronavirus cases in Wisconsin has been rising for nearly three weeks.

“Wisconsin’s 7-day average for new confirmed and probable cases has been trending upward,” Willems Van Dijk said Wednesday. “We are concerned with this trajectory along with the increasing proportion of specimens that are the Delta variant.”

However DHS’s numbers show that while the number of cases are rising, the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus remains flat. Wisconsin’s coronavirus death toll has also remained flat, averaging about one death per-day.

And has been the case since the beginning of the outbreak, most of the hospitalizations and deaths have been among people 65-plus. DHS’s data shows just three deaths of anyone under the age of 19, and just over 1,000 people in the same age range who have ever been hospitalized with the virus.