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'Rapid rise in cases' | Montgomery Co. health official tells schools they should have a mask mandate

Despite the Aug. 24 letter from Dr. Charles Sims and high COVID-19 case counts, area school districts in Montgomery County have not instituted mask mandates.

CONROE, Texas — The number of children getting infected with COVID-19 in Montgomery County is skyrocketing. More than 2,100 kids were infected in the month of August compared with the previous record of 649 back in January.

Now KHOU 11 News is learning the Montgomery County Health Authority recently told local school districts exactly how to stop this, but it hasn't been done yet.

The letter in question is dated Aug. 24, but many parents are just coming across it now, and they cannot comprehend why even after that, mask mandates still aren't in place.

"We're seeing what happens when they don't wear them," said Virginia Houk.

Houk has been a vocal supporter of a mask mandate in Conroe ISD for weeks. She's one of the voices who spoke out in support at an August 17 board meeting.

Many others disagreed.

"Mask mandates are unnecessary," one woman said.

Seven days later, Dr. Charles Sims, the Montgomery County Health Authority, sent area superintendents a letter, writing, "I recommend...you require mask utilization by all students, staff and teachers...to prevent further spread."

"I'm disappointed that this doesn't seem to have been listened to," Houk said.

Houk just doesn't get why.

"These are people in ERs and ICUs seeing what's happening, saying please have masks in your district for students and your staff, and they're still not doing that despite record breaking cases. It's just, you're at a loss," Houk said.

Conroe ISD on Tuesday again did not make anyone available for an interview. The district sent us this statement: "As requested by the Montgomery County Public Health Authority in their letter of advisement, Conroe ISD strongly recommends the wearing of masks since Executive Order GA-38 prohibits mask mandates."

"The single word besides anger is frustration. Just deep frustration," Houk said.

It's why two weeks into the school year, Houk removed her child from school.

"It just felt like a huge gamble every single day," Houk said.

She wants her daughter back in the classroom, but only when it's safe. And right now, she isn't hopeful Conroe ISD will change course anytime soon.

"In Montgomery County, this is less of a health, science issue and more of a political issue," Houk said. "Our children, our teachers, our district staff are paying the price for these politics."

The Health Authority in Montgomery County sent us this statement:

"Dr. Charles Sims, Montgomery County Local Health Authority, has been in regular contact with schools districts in the county regarding COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. His advice has been unwavering. To slow the spread of COVID-19, residents should be vaccinated if eligible, wear a mask when in public and/or crowded spaces, practice good handwashing and surface disinfection. He has maintained that wearing a mask in schools is important to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. On August 24th, at the request of Montgomery County school districts, Dr. Sims sent a letter reiterating his advice and encouraging mask-wearing by students, teachers and staff. Ultimately, decisions on school safety procedures and protocols fall to each individual district. Montgomery County Public Health District will continue to encourage all residents to follow CDC guidelines to mitigate the spread of COVID-19."

If you'd like to read Dr. Sim's Aug. 24 letter to area school districts, click here.

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