The TIS Covid Response Team announced last week that TIS is dropping the indoor mask mandate for students, employees and visitors. This is the first time since the pandemic started in Tashkent in March of 2020 that everyone can go mask-free at all times. When transmission in the city has been low, we were able to make masks optional outdoors and in the Early Learning Center. We’ve been unlucky on several occasions this school year when we were considering dropping the mask mandate entirely, a new variant would arrive and we needed to keep the mask mandate in place.
The Uzbek government dropped all mask mandates long ago. The vast majority of the Uzbeks are risk-tolerant so you see few people wearing masks in the city. There are no requirements for schools. We took a cautious approach because of the diversity of our population. Some of the cultures in our school are much less risk-tolerant than Uzbek culture. I think because many people are vaccinated and recent variants are milder than previous versions, there is a high bar for re-instituting mask mandates. I am also seeing mask fatigue in many of our students and employees. We were handing out more masks during morning arrival which tells me that more people are not wearing masks when they were off-campus. We conducted a survey a few weeks ago and a strong majority of foreign employees want to go maskless.
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I was curious to see how the students would react. I sense that many of them have been wearing masks for so long that they just feel more comfortable with them on than off. Adolescence can be an awkward time for students and the masks probably give them a bit more protection against social interactions as well. In the first week of the maskless campus, probably around 20% of the students are wearing masks and as the week went on, that number dropped.
There are a lot of questions about booster vaccines. We will be offering employees and foreign parents the opportunity to get a booster shot through our sister organization, the Tashkent International Clinic. The CDC is recommending boosters (third shot) for children ages 5 to 11.
I am hearing from friends through Facebook about their experiences in China. The government’s Zero-COVID policy must be tough to teach through as the school year is ending. We are fortunate that cases are low at the moment in Tashkent and hopefully we can finish the year on-campus without problems.