ALBEMARLE — Stanly County Schools made masks optional effective Oct. 25, and in data released for late November, a month without masks has not seemed to return the district to its higher positive COVID numbers from early in the school year.
The school district’s COVID dashboard numbers for Nov. 21-27 show 237 students and 19 staff are now quarantined. In early September, these numbers were 1,498 students and 82 staff quarantined.
The number of positive cases has also dropped precipitously, from 143 students and 14 staff in the week of Sept. 5-11 to only nine students and three staff testing positive now.
Masks were made optional after the Stanly County Board of Education determined the county had dropped below a 7.9% positive rate on COVID testing over a 14-day period. This allowed the county to forgo the stricter quarantine and mask requirements in the N.C. Strong Schools Toolkit guidance given by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Following this guidance led to large numbers of students being quarantined every week, including the approximately 1,500 in the week of Sept. 5-11. Parents turned up the pressure on board members to relax the requirements as soon as possible, as many of them had to take time off work to care for children out for quarantines of up to two weeks at a time.
“Currently, the Stanly County percent positive is below 7.9%; it was at 7.7 based on the metric I just gave you,” Dennis told the board at the Oct. 21 meeting. “And if you look at our internal numbers, and I don’t have them exactly right now, they’re even lower than they were at the last meeting — they’re low. … We’re only looking at a positive or two at most schools, and some schools have none.”
In the month since, the numbers have dropped further, with most schools now having zero cases. The school with the highest COVID case numbers in the district at the moment is Endy Elementary, with three students and one staff testing positive.
Some in the community worried that relaxing the rules around quarantining and masks would lead to a spike in cases. But the low numbers across the district have started to relieve these concerns. As has been the case in other districts, though, any new outbreaks in district schools can rekindle the debate.
The Stanly County Board of Education’s latest meeting was on Dec. 7.