The Pitt County Board of Education had hoped masking would be optional when students returned in January. But board members voted 6-2 Monday night to require masks for students, teachers and staff to combat rising COVID cases.
Pitt County Health Director Dr. John Silvernail joining the public hearing remotely told the school board the spread of omicron leaves little choice.
“Right now we have a surge coming at us that’s going to require the quarantining of many children when we go back to school, if we have unmasked students mixed with masked students,” Dr. Silvernail advised.
He said that could set up a domino effect of parents needing to skip work as well.
“When that student is quarantined, then someone has to stay home with that student, and that takes Mom or Dad out of work, and many of our folks work in the healthcare system. Our healthcare system is already strapped.”
About 1 in 5 COVID tests in Pitt County are coming back positive for the virus.
“This virus is in the community. We don’t need to stick our head in the sand and act like it’s not affecting people,” said James Tripp, the board chair.
“I think in order to protect the healthcare system, to help protect the community, to ask you to go mandatory mask until we get to the backside of omicron is very reasonable,” said Silvernail.
Pitt County Schools currently serves more than 24,000 students.
The school board will revisit the mask mandate at its February meeting.
Click below to hear Pitt County’s Health Director discuss school masking: