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Thursday August 18th

CHCCS delays dropping indoor mask mandate until April 4

DTH Photo Illustration. A stack of N95 masks is on display.
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. A stack of N95 masks is on display.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education voted 6-1 on Thursday to delay dropping its indoor mask mandate until April 4, when the district returns from spring break.

On April 4, CHCCS will move to mask recommended, but not required, in K-12 schools for indoors spaces, including buses. The sole dissenting vote was from board member George Griffin.

"I would like to just end (mask requirements) because the data suggests it's okay to end it," he said.

The board also voted unanimously to move mask recommended, but not required outdoors on March 7 — the same day Orange County will lift its mask mandate on indoor public spaces. The county announced this decision on Tuesday.

CHCCS Superintendent Nyah Hamlett said that in a survey of the district's employees, 65 percent of respondents said they wanted to keep the mask requirements. Additionally, around 34 percent of respondents said they would prefer a recommended, but not required approach to masking.

At the meeting, several board members expressed their desire to delay dropping the mask mandate.

Board member Ashton Powell said he wanted to give time for more staff and students to get vaccinated. 

"Your best protection is the vaccine, and now's your chance to get it," he said. 

Right now 97 percent of CHCCS staff are fully vaccinated, Hamlett said at the meeting. For the week of Feb. 21, the district reported 23 positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff in schools, according to its COVID-19 data tracker. This was down nine cases from the previous week's total of 32 positive cases.

Board member Jillian LaSerna said that she wanted more time for students and staff to transition, and to allow time for CHCCS to provide higher quality masks for students who may still wear them after the mandate is lifted.

"I feel really strongly that I want to be in a position that people have time to acquire masks," LaSerna said.

According to Hamlett, CHCCS has 5,000 KN95 masks. She said the district could order more smaller masks to provide for younger students.

LaSerna also expressed concern over student mental health when the mask mandate drops. 

“We will have students who will experience anxiety in classrooms where we go mask-optional,” she said. 

Hamlett said that school support and wellness teams are prepared to provide resources to students, staff and families who may experience mask-related anxiety.

Recent updates to Orange County's mask guidelines have changed as a result of indicators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Thursday, the CDC just dropped Orange County's risk level down to medium on its dashboard after 78 consecutive days of high risk.

“We are in a much different place at this point in the pandemic than we were just four months ago,” Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart said.


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