Following a 3-1 vote by the Wyoming County Board of Education Thursday morning, students and teachers will continue wearing masks in an effort to protect against the continuing health threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and to keep schools open.
Mike Davis made the motion to continue the mask mandate in schools and Doug Lester offered the second. Mike Prichard, board president, also voted in favor of the masks. Richie Walker voted against the measure.
“Nobody loves it, but it's working,” Deirdre Cline, county schools superintendent, emphasized.
“It's taking us in the right direction,” she said.
“If children are masked, it reduces quarantines.”
Schools with a universal mask policy will not be required to quarantine students and staff after exposure, according to West Virginia Department of Education guidelines.
Since the schools mask mandate was put into place in September, there have been significant decreases in the number of students quarantined, John Henry, assistant schools superintendent, told board members.
Before there were 300 to 400 students at a time in quarantine, Henry said, which meant those students were away from the classroom.
At the height of the pandemic, county schools were seeing 1,250 absences in a day. That has since dropped to just over 600, Henry said.
Since the mask mitigation, the numbers have continually decreased. As of Wednesday, 126 students and 5 staff members were in quarantine; 24 students and 3 staff members had tested positive for Covid.
On Sept. 7, the board voted to implement the mask mandate as the county faced the possibility of school closings due to the escalating number of Covid cases and quarantines. That reversed their decision prior to the start of school, when they voted to allow parents to decide if their children should wear a mask while in school.
Then on Aug. 31, the first day all students attended for a full day, there were 11 positive case results and 64 students quarantined. Three instructional days later (or five calendar days), on Sept. 7, those numbers had jumped to 172 quarantined and 29 positive tests.
For the most part since school began, Wyoming County has remained in the red on the West Virginia Deparment of Health and Human Resources' color-coded alert map, indicating the highest transmission rate of Covid-19 cases.
Cline said the issue will be re-examined during the board's Nov. 18 meeting.