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On mask policy, BCS taking ‘everything into consideration’

Gov. Roy Cooper, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen and State Health Director Dr. Betsey Tilson sent a letter on Friday to school systems that have made masks optional for the upcoming year, urging them to rethink that decision and make masks mandatory.

“The science is clear that children learn better when they attend school in person and the science is also clear that masks reduce COVID infections so we can keep them there. The Delta variant is moving fast and I strongly urge school leaders who have made masks optional to reconsider and make them mandatory,” said Cooper.

Beaufort County Schools is one of the school districts that received the letter. The school board voted unanimously to make masks optional for all students and staff this year.

“Our urgency is due to the rapidly increasing spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 in North Carolina,” the letter reads in part. “Unfortunately, COVID-19 hospitalizations have more than doubled over the past two weeks, cases have increased by more than 50% in seven days, and the number of people going to the emergency department with COVID-like symptoms is rising.

“In addition, we are seeing increasing rates of infection in children,” the letter continues. “While it is still unclear if the Delta variant causes more sever illness in children than prior variants, we are seeing increasing hospitalizations for pediatric patients. In addition, we are still learning about the long-term complications in children.”

Beaufort County Board of Education Chairwoman Carolyn Walker said Friday that the school board will “take everything into consideration” when it comes to the district’s mask policy, meaning they’ll continue to track trends as the new school year approaches. With the exception of Beaufort County Early College High School, schools in the BCS system will start class on Aug. 23. Walker noted that the board is prepared to make a change if a spike in COVID-19 metrics or an order from Cooper calls for it.

As of now, the school system has no immediate plans to consider changing its mask policy. Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman said he’ll formally present the letter to the school board at its next meeting. It won’t be an action item, but they board will be able to discuss the letter.

“The board will always have the opportunity to review, reflect and revisit decisions they’ve made,” Cheeseman said.