FARGO — Starting in January, Fargo Public Schools will no longer require masks be worn in school buildings, but masks will be recommended under new public health guidance.

Availability of the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 is the main factor prompting the updated guidance issued Tuesday, Nov. 16, by Fargo Cass Public Health.

The Fargo School District announced that it plans to adopt the new guidance on Monday, Jan. 17.

In August, the Fargo School Board directed administration to follow Fargo Cass Public Health mitigation strategies for the 2021-22 school year. Because the public health agency changed its guidance, the district can adopt the new strategy without a vote by the school board, said district spokeswoman AnnMarie Campbell.

Masks will still be required for all passengers and drivers on Fargo Public Schools transportation, including school buses and activity buses, due to a federal requirement, Campbell said.

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The Fargo School District currently requires students, staff and visitors to wear masks in school buildings during daily instructional times, and masks are recommended at other times of the day.

The new guidance from Fargo Cass Public Health applies to all K-12 schools in Cass County and was developed in consultation with the North Dakota Department of Health and Fargo Cass Public Health’s Physician Advisory Group, according to the public health agency.

Starting Jan. 15, the guidance for Cass County schools changes from "universal masking" to "masks strongly recommended." The West Fargo School District currently recommends masks but does not require them.

Fargo Cass Public Health said the main factor for the new guidance is vaccine availability for children ages 5-11. Other factors include a plateau of cases with continued high community transmission, booster doses available for many adults, monoclonal antibodies readily available for those 12 and older and oral antiviral medications expected to be available soon.

The mid-January date allows time for children ages 5-11 to be fully vaccinated and provides an adequate time frame to identify exposures and new cases after the holiday break, Fargo Cass Public Health said.

Fargo Cass Public Health continues to recommend mask use in indoor public places due to the area's designation as having a high level of community transmission.