Masks Required to Keep Schools Open
With recent increases in COVID cases and related quarantines in schools, effective Monday, August 30, face masks will be required indoors on school grounds for students, staff, and visitors. The requirement will be in effect until local health conditions are not considered high risk for transmission.
Mask wearing will not be required for those who have documented exemptions found in the updated Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit (K-12) Safe Schools Toolkit. Masks are also not required for athletes engaged in indoor sports. In addition, masks are not required for outdoor activities; however, it is encouraged that physical distance is maintained.
“The decision was made to start the school year making masks optional while monitoring data. Through ongoing communication and regular updates, it is apparent that a more restrictive step is needed,” said Superintendent Dr. Don Phipps. “Having collected data this week and in consultation with Board members, it is felt that this step is necessary to provide the safest learning environment possible for students and staff while reducing the number of students and staff who are quarantined. At this point, the quarantine numbers are having a greater impact on teaching and learning than positive numbers, although we certainly want to manage both.”
COVID cases in Caldwell County have dramatically increased from 11 confirmed cases in the first week of July to 538 now. Within the first two weeks of school, nurses and parents have reported 133 positive COVID cases among the student population and 31 within the ranks of faculty and staff. These numbers reflect data collected beginning August 16 when students returned to the Caldwell Applied Sciences Academy and the Caldwell Early College High School. Positive cases have an effect on close contacts while at school, which is the case across grade levels from elementary to high school. The number of students quarantined reached a high of 730 on Friday.
According to state guidelines, quarantine is required for any individual who has been in close contact (within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes cumulatively over a 24-hour period) with someone who is determined COVID positive. However, in the school system, if both the infectious student and their close student contacts were wearing their masks correctly throughout the day, the close student contact may not have to quarantine. Additionally, a student or staff who volunteers to provide their COVID-19 vaccination status when named a close contact may not have to quarantine. By wearing masks, fewer students and staff would be subject to quarantine.
The school district will resume posting a COVID report each week on Fridays, which will include the total number of students and staff who have tested positive for the virus as well as the total number of quarantined students and staff. The report is published on the Caldwell County Schools COVID Dashboard at caldwellschools.com.
For those who are interested, the Caldwell County Health Department administers COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday through Thursday from 9:00 am to 11:30 am and from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm on Wednesdays. The department administers Pfizer for children ages 12 to 17 and Moderna for adults 18 years and older. For information about appointments at other locations, visit vaccinefinder.org or myspot.nc.gov. Children under the age of 12 remain unvaccinated as COVID vaccines are not yet approved for them.