After a vote by the Wayne County Board of Education earlier this week on new masking rules, 15 of Wayne County’s 32 schools are requiring students, staff, and visitors to wear masks in the buildings as of Tuesday.
Charles B. Aycock High, Eastern Wayne Elementary, Greenwood Middle, Mount Olive Middle, Northeast Elementary, Northwest Elementary, Spring Creek Middle and Wayne School of Engineering schools are among those schools masking up once again.
Others include Brogden Primary, Carver Elementary, Fremont Elementary, Grantham Elementary, Grantham Middle, Meadow Lane Elementary and Norwayne Elementary.
Wayne County Board of Education members, in a 4-2 vote Monday, made masking for COVID-19 mandatory at each school if the school has an 8% or higher exclusion rate of the school population.
Making the motion, board member Craig Foucht explained that the exclusion rate equals the total number of students and staff on isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19 divided by the total student and staff population at the school.
In his motion, Foucht said that the mask status will be decided on a school-by-school basis.
“Masks will be optional if a school has less than 8% exclusion rate,” he said. “If an individual school has 8% or more of the students and staff excluded (due to COVID), then the masks will be required inside of the building for a period of no less than 10 school days.
“Masks will be optional at the end of the two weeks once the exclusion rate drops below 8%.”
Foucht said that 8% is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention threshold, and that when that number is between 8% and 10%, COVID can be transmitted more easily.
The masking rule doesn’t apply to school buses, as the CDC has mandated that masks be worn on school buses at all times by students and drivers.
The motion passed, with board members Len Henderson and Patricia Burden voting in opposition.
The board made its masking decision after Ken Derksen, Wayne County Public Schools executive director for community engagement and student and family support, presented statistics on the current COVID situation in the schools for the 2021-22 school year, from Aug. 6 through Jan. 9.
“The last three board reports I have given you, we’ve been pretty fortunate to be able to watch community metrics decline, which has directly impacted the impact of COVID-19 within our school setting,” Derksen said.
“Today I wish we could say that we’re continuing the decline, but all of you have been watching the news, there are a lot of challenges just in the last week that we’ve experienced as a result of COVID. If you were to take a temperature check in our school buildings, it would feel very much like September.”
Derksen said it’s a challenging situation because the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is highly contagious. He also said more exposure is expected than what has been seen so far from the delta variant.
Showing data from the 2½ weeks leading up to the holiday season and last week, Derksen said the majority of COVID cases schools are seeing have been in the week coming out of the holiday break.
“That’s important to understand,” he said. “As you look at the data, you need to think of what’s it going to look like in the next week or two at the rate that we’re going. I think it’s safe to say that we can expect greater impacts from omicron than we saw with delta.
“It’s more contagious. We know that as the community spread increases, you’re going to see greater impacts to facilities like our schools. We’ve seen increases in secondary cases. And we believe as we see more exposures, we’ll see more secondary cases. And that was true of delta as well.”
Derksen said past trends in a nonmasking situation show that Wayne County Public Schools can anticipate more primary and secondary cases to occur in the school as the omicron surge continues to increase in the community.
“In the absence of a universal masking policy, WCPS can also anticipate greater numbers of students and staff having to be excluded than previously experienced during the delta surge,” he said. “This is in large part due to increased on-campus exposures and decreased masking exemptions being applied.”
Derksen said if the schools transition to a universal masking setting, WCPS could expect a greater number of students and staff to be exempt from quarantine as the omicron surge increases.
“Additionally, new state guidance will allow greater numbers of students/staff exposed outside of school to be excluded from quarantine with testing requirements,” he said.
“Most important as you consider your decision this evening, CDC statistics for Wayne County, cases are up in Wayne County over the last seven days. It’s the highest number reported over the past three months that I’ve shared these charts. The new hospital admissions is also a number that’s gone up.”
Derksen said WCPS is still tracking the same reasons for exclusion of students and staff:
• COVID positive primary cases contracted outside of school.
• COVID positive secondary cases contracted after being named a close contact with someone at school.
• Named as a close contact of a COVID positive individual at school, without appropriate masking or vaccinations.
• Named as a close contact of a COVID positive individual outside of school, not vaccinated.
• Named as a close contact of a COVID positive individual during athletics or extracurricular activities, not vaccinated.
At the beginning of the meeting, Shonta Edwards, a parent of five children, spoke about the need for masking in all schools at all times.
She said three of her children have breathing and respiratory problems and other health issues.
“My first child that goes to Norwayne caught COVID the second day of school,” Edwards said. “She’s on medicine, but can’t smell or taste still.”
Another one of her children who goes to Northeast Elementary School caught COVID at school back in November.
“The school didn’t tell me to get her tested, but a student from her school who tested positive called my daughter and said, ‘I have COVID. You need to tell everyone in the class to go get tested.’
“I take my daughter to get tested and my daughter is positive for COVID. I go to the school. The principal told me they were unaware that a child had COVID, and they didn’t know anything about it.”
Edwards said her daughter gave the virus to her 3-year-old. And Edwards said she herself had COVID three times.
“It spread through my house like wildfire,” she said.
Edwards told board members that she wanted masks to be mandatory in the schools.