BY KARISSA MILLER
The Iredell County Board of Commissioners heard extensively last month from members of the public about the mask mandates in schools and their concerns about a potential vaccine requirement for children.
Public speakers suggested commissioners turn down federal COVID-19 relief funds, and some speakers even encouraged the board to withhold local funding from the school systems for accepting these funds.
Meanwhile, other speakers criticized the county health director and wanted answers about school quarantines and who has authority to issue them.
As a result of these concerns, county staff compiled a list of questions raised during the public comment period and submitted them to the state N.C. Department of Health and Human Services for answers.
County Manager Beth Mull explained on Tuesday that the questions were submitted as received. For example, one question asked, if you took an oath did you use a sacred or non-sacred scripture such as the Christian Bible or other religious text such as the Satanic Bible?
Initially, Mull said, state officials declined to respond to the questions.
However, they did agree to provide some answers, but did not respond point by point due to the nature of some of the questions.
Here are some summarized takeaways and guidance that the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services provided:
Q: Is the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit legally enforceable?
A: According to State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore, the Toolkit includes prevention guidance based on the latest science about reducing COVID-19 transmission in schools. The Toolkit itself is not a legally enforceable document in its entirety, but it does include references to statutory requirements, including required control measures.
The case for Masks at Schools
State experts also shared the CDC Science Brief, a document that provides the latest evidence showing the effectiveness of masks in slowing the spread of COVID-19. In this document, titled “Science Brief: Community Use of Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-COV-2,” the CDC has performed various studies to determine whether masking adults and children reduces COVID-19 transmission.
The fourth study listed is of eight public K-12 schools in Massachusetts that was conducted during the 2020-21 school year. The results found that the transmission rate was 11.7 percent for unmasked compared to 1.7 percent for masked interactions.
Another CDC study found that U.S. counties without mask mandates saw larger increases in pediatric COVID-19 cases after schools opened. The study looked at 520 counties from July to September 2021.
The key takeaway, based on the CDC studies, is that schools with mask mandates have lower COVID-19 transmission rates than schools without mask mandates. It’s also important to note that the brief mentioned that “individual prevention benefit increases with increasing number of people using masks consistently and correctly.”
Potential Adverse Health Effects of Mask Wearing
Adults: Research supports that under most circumstances, mask wearing has no significant adverse health effects for wearers. Studies of healthy hospital workers, older adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) reported no minimal changes in oxygen or carbon dioxide levels while wearing a cloth or surgical mask either during rest or moderate physical activity.
Children: A study of 60 children reported no adverse cardiovascular or pulmonary effects among children while wearing a cloth face covering in a classroom for 30 consecutive minutes of instructional time.
In another study of children ages 10 to 17 who wore masks for 6-7 hours during the school day, some children self-reported general or situation specific side effects such as skin irritation, headache or difficulty breathing during physical education.
The study also looked at whether masks could hinder language and emotional development. Some research suggests that children and adults, and especially toddlers (3-5 years old), can have difficulty inferring emotion from facial features presented on photographs of persons with their lower facial features covered by a mask.
Document 2: COVID-19 in Schools: Legal Authority and Requirements
The second document “COVID-19 in Schools: Legal Authority and Requirements” outlines legal authorities and requirements related to prevention of COVID-19 in schools. It begins by explaining the principal’s duty to report and the health department’s responsibility to investigate under law.
Pursuant to law, “all persons—including schools and local school boards of education—shall comply with control measures (NCGS 130A-144 (f)) prescribed by the Commission for Public Health in rule, as set at NCGS 130A-144(g).”
For COVID-19, these include, but are not limited to;
♦ Isolation for positive and suspected cases of COVID-19;
♦ Quarantine for close contacts of COVID-19 cases;
♦ Exclusion from school for confirmed and suspected cases and close contacts of COVID-19 cases; and
♦ Contact tracing to identify and monitor individuals who have been exposed.
County officials provided printed copies of the questions and responses for the public at their last meeting.
The next meeting is scheduled for February 15 at Iredell Government Center, 200 S. Center Street in Statesville.