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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: Orange County School Board lifts mask mandate prematurely

Orange County Schools Superintendent Monique Felder speaks at the beginning of a OCS Board of Education meeting on Monday, Feb. 21, 2022.

CORRECTION: A previous version of the article stated that the vote lifted indoor school mask mandates on Monday. The article has been updates to reflect the decision accurately. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

Following recommendations from Gov. Roy Cooper,  the Orange County Board of Education voted unanimously to lift its mask mandate for students 72 hours after the county lifts its own.

The dramatic change in COVID-19 policies in our schools comes as both daily new cases and hospitalizations steadily decline across the state. Regardless of hopeful trends, the Board of Education’s decision is a rash one. 

When we see the positivity rate fall and conditions improve across the state, we should recognize that this is the direct result of COVID-19 precautions. It’s mask mandates in our schools and counties and widespread vaccine efforts that have allowed us to get where we are.

To remove them in a single sweeping policy decision is irresponsible.

The removal of the mandate only a few days after the governor’s press conference reflects a strategic political decision — more than a thoughtful and carefully considered public health move. 

The public is growing tired of the ways the pandemic has changed our lives in the last two years. But if COVID-19 worsens, it will likely be difficult to reinstate mask mandates and have widespread compliance, especially given resistance to the initial mandates. 

We cannot backtrack, but the Board of Education’s decision might force us to if cases rise again. Our K-12 classrooms cannot be the guinea pigs for these drastic changes to how we handle coronavirus.

It’s likely this decision could affect UNC, where thousands of students share living and learning facilities, and are at increased risk of exposure and transmission. Such decisions are a slippery slope, yet are being made carelessly.

It is time to revaluate how we are handling COVID-19 as cases and hospitalizations decline. There is room to create more lax guidelines, but not without careful decision-making processes. 

Our “return to normalcy” should be gradual. COVID-19 precautions should only be removed after the consequences of these actions are fully understood. Public input, as well as that of public health experts, should guide our decision-making, not just the guidance of politicians.


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