All schools within Johnson County, including the Paintsville Independent School District and the Johnson County School District will continue to require masks in school as COVID-19 cases continue to remain at record highs within the county.

"During the past few weeks our community has seen an enormous increase in the number of

COVID-19 cases both in adults but in particular our young people," said Paintsville Superintendent David Gibson in a statement issued this week. "Unfortunately, we have also seen a dramatic rise in the number of deaths due to Covid-19. Due to this, Paintsville Independent Schools will continue to require masks for everyone inside our school facilities."

Johnson County Schools Superintendent Thom Cochran echoed these sentiments in his statement, as well, adding thanks for the support of community stakeholders.

"As we get ready to begin another week, I want to send out a huge thank you to our students, staff, families, and entire school community for your continued focus and efforts in getting our students back to face-to-face instruction and learning. Undoubtedly, this is a very difficult time for each and every one of us," Cochran said. "Throughout the uncertainties and hardships, everyone is working so hard to ensure the safest possible school environment, and I'm proud to say that Monday will be our 23rd day of school this year.

“Our most important responsibility as a district is the safety and well being of our students and staff,” he continued. “Your diligence in following safety guidelines is a primary factor in allowing us to continue having in person learning and keep our incidence rate low in our schools. We are thankful for every member of our school community and continue to ask for grace as we navigate the pandemic. Once we feel like conditions in our community have returned to a safe level as recognized by our local health department, we will revisit masking.

Cochran explained the change recently made by the state legislature that prompted the need for the schools to declare their own masking requirements.

"As you are likely aware, legislation was passed at the end of last week that directly impacts all schools in the state of Kentucky. Some state requirements with masking have changed that go into effect as of Wednesday this week (Sept. 15), and now safety decisions regarding COVID-19 fall to local decision making. Based on the current situation within our Johnson County community, and in order to continue to provide the safest possible environment for every person in our school buildings, masking will continue to be required inside all buildings and on all school buses of the Johnson County School System at all times," Cochran added. "This will include students, staff, and any visitors who enter our schools. We will continue to monitor numbers using our Johnson County COVID Dashboard that includes both school and community data.

"During this time, we will also be meeting with local medical professionals and school personnel to take a close look at the data included in our dashboard to make sure all pertinent information is included that helps us drive decisions concerning mitigation strategies used within our schools," Cochran continued. "We will reevaluate our decision for masking one week after our Fall Break, which is Oct. 1 through 8."

In the coming weeks, which will surely be trying for each district, according to the superintendents, both Cochran and Gibson asked for prayers and patience as they make the best possible decisions they can for the safety and development of students.

"I will continue to update you as any changes occur. I also want to remind you that we are continuing to update our Safe Return to In-Person Learning Plan," Cochran said. "As you know, we have had several members of our school family impacted by COVID. Some have recovered, some are still fighting, and others have lost this battle. Throughout the next days and weeks, I do ask that we all keep each and every one of these Eagles and their families in our thoughts and prayers. I also ask that you continue to remain patient and supportive while offering grace as I make decisions going forward. I hope you know that I value each of you, and I am honored to lead this outstanding school district as we continue to battle the tough times that lie ahead."

"Paintsville Independent Schools would also like to ask for prayers for those in our community who have lost loved ones due to this dreadful virus," Gibson said, in his statement. "We stand with each of you and offer our heartfelt condolences and support."

For more information, follow each district on social media or visit their websites, at, www.johnson.k12.ky.us, for the JCSD, or, www.paintsville.kyschools.us, for the PISD. For information on COVID-19 in our community, follow the Johnson County Health Department on Facebook by searching for "Johnson County Health Dept."