DARE COUNTY, N.C. — Because of rising COVID-19 cases and over 400 students in quarantine, masks are now required in Dare County schools.
When Dare County students went back to class last week, masks were optional.
But Dr. Daniel Dwyer, Chief of Staff at the Outer Banks Hospital, sounded an alarm telling the school board in an email, "We are in a crisis."
Dr. Dwyer's concerns were not lost on the board during Wednesday’s special called meeting.
"There’s been an increase in numbers of COVID infections and positive tests statewide and in Dare County since we opened schools," Superintendent John Farrelly told the board members. “I don’t want to get into a public debate about masks. What I’m just stating, that, if the goal is to keep kids in school, then the path is to either reduce the number of kids in school or go to universal masking."
On Wednesday, the board said only 45% of students were wearing masks.
As of Wednesday morning, the online COVID-19 dashboard showed 399 students in quarantine, but Farrelly said that number went to over 400 as the day progressed. That's compared to 79 when school first started.
"I want to keep these schools open for our students and as long as they're wearing a mask, the quarantine should be much lower," said board member David Twiddy.
With that information in hand, the board voted 7-0 to reverse their original decision and require masks indoors.
That decision made some parents unhappy.
Other parents were upset they did not get a chance to address the board before they voted and were escorted out after making their frustrations known from the crowd.
"This is a public meeting. Act your age," Vice-Chairman Margaret Lawler told them.
The board agreed they hope cases will start to go back down and universal masking won’t be something that has to stay in place for long.
"If the science works out and everything progresses, this should not be a long term… we pray this will not be a long term thing," said DCSB member Frank Hester.
Right now, the Dare County school district is in the red zone for virus transmission.
"The districts go from red, to orange, to yellow. When you get to the yellow phase, transmission rates have gone down, then that’s when there’s a recommendation for districts to not have universal masking," said Farrelly.
The new mask mandate takes effect Thursday, Sept. 2nd.
The board also voted to reopen virtual enrollment until the 6th, so parents and students can choose if they want to make a change in how they are learning based on the new policy.
This won’t be the last time the mask policy is brought up in Dare County School Board meetings.
According to a new law in North Carolina, school boards that require masks must have monthly votes on whether to continue or modify the policy.