BY MIKE FUHRMAN
The Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education is running out of time.
The new school year starts on Monday for most I-SS schools — the district’s early college programs and N.B. Mills Elementary have already started classes — and the I-SS board appears content to give the “masks optional” policy it adopted this summer a try.
That’s a huge mistake, and one that could have catastrophic results for our community. Some 240 deaths in Iredell County have been attributed to COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. That’s too many, and all of our governmental agencies should be working to keep that number from rising.
The I-SS board was backed into a corner this summer by a group of parents who have politicized what should be a public health issue. This group pressured the board at several public meetings, saying that the decision to mask or not mask should be up to parents.
While the board gave itself an out by adopting a policy that allows Superintendent Jeff James to change course and require masks if the district is over-run with positive cases of COVID-19, there’s no reason to wait until students, teachers and staff get sick or die to take the appropriate steps to slow the spread of this deadly virus.
Masks should be required from day one.
Mooresville Graded Schools began the school year with a mask-optional approach, but quickly made masking mandatory after very few students wore masks. Mitchell Community College is requiring masks on campus for students and college employees. Most school districts throughout our region are requiring masks as well, and Gov. Roy Cooper and NCDHSS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen have asked districts who are not requiring masks to reconsider.
The Delta variant is deadly. Across the nation kids are getting seriously ill, and young adults who did not receive the vaccine are dying. Many of those who get sick but survive will have lasting health issues.
In Iredell County and across the state hospital ICU beds are filling up rapidly. As of Friday afternoon, there are 86 COVID-19 patients in Iredell County hospitals. That marks a dramatic increase from just three weeks ago, when there were only a handful of patients.
Local health officials continue to urge residents who have not been vaccinated to do so in order to protect themselves from serious illness.
Meanwhile, the CDC’s position on masking in schools is clear — the nation’s leading public health agency recommends “universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
The last time I checked no one on the I-SS board is a medical doctor, public health director or an epidemiologist. They don’t know better than federal, state and local public health officials or the medical experts at Iredell Health System, Piedmont HealthCare, Davis Regional Medical Center and Lake Norman Regional Medical Center.
While masks do not prevent the spread of COVID-19, they do slow the spread. Because children ages 12 and under are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine, the school board has an obligation to protect them — as well as teachers, staff and older students who may not be able to take the vaccine.
As a community, we cannot and should not accept a public policy that says it’s okay if only a few kids or teachers get really sick and/or die from COVID-19. The school board should take a stand against the politicization of a public health issue and require face masks for all students, teachers and staff when schools open Monday.
Mike Fuhrman is the editor of Iredell Free News and the parent of an I-SS student.