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The Daily Tar Heel

Orange County Schools to scale back COVID-19 regulations

The Orange County Schools Board of Education altered several COVID-19 regulations on Monday, including allowing optional masking outdoors.

The Orange County Schools Board of Education scaled back multiple COVID-19 regulations during its meeting Monday.

The reduced regulations include optional masking outdoors and no spectator limitations for sports or other events. Masks will still be required indoors, and they will be required both indoors and outdoors for students and staff returning under certain circumstances according to the Orange County Health Department.

“Keeping students and staff safe and our schools open for learning five days a week continues to be a top priority in the district,” Superintendent Monique Felder said. 

Deputy Superintendent of Operations Patrick Abele said the omicron surge is receding and that schools had minimal secondary transmissions as of Jan. 28.

In OCS for the week of Jan. 28, there were 63 COVID-19 cases in elementary schools, 20 in middle schools and 39 in high schools.

Abele said the strategies moving forward include providing high filtration masks for students and staff, doing weekly surveillance testing and increasing vaccination rates. He announced a goal of normalizing the educational experience to pre-pandemic levels over the next six to eight weeks.

“Keeping students and staff safe and our schools open for learning five days a week continues to be a top priority in the district,” Felder said.

Each COVID-19 recommendation change was approved in a 4-1 vote.

Board member Sarah Smylie was the sole dissenting vote. She said she would not be able to support these recommendations until she gathered more information from medical experts.

“I don’t understand the logic of this right now given the case rate,” Smylie said, referring to reducing masking requirements. 

She also raised concerns about student vaccination rates, especially in Title 1 schools. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 79.3 percent of the population aged 5 and older in Orange County was fully vaccinated as of Feb. 1.

Board member Will Atherton said he supports allowing spectators in school events again because he is worried about the social and emotional health of students. He thinks it is important that athletes and performers have support at their events. 

Abele said spectators should continue to mask and take other actions to mitigate spread, and said school administrators are following guidance from local health officials and the Strong Schools N.C. Public Health Toolkit, designed by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services for COVID-19 prevention in schools.

During the public comment period, some parents spoke out against the mask mandate.

Mel Mealey, a mother of four, said other countries and cities are lifting restrictions.

“If you haven't traveled outside of this local area in a while, it doesn't take long to enter an area where there are no restrictions, no masks in sight and no more fear,” she said.

The board released a statement on Tuesday outlining some of the new COVID-19 testing procedures.

Voluntary COVID-19 testing will be available at certain school campuses in Orange County at no cost. Parents are encouraged to opt in to the program.


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