The Scott County Board of Education is set to vote on maintaining or lifting its mask mandate during this Thursday’s meeting, just as the county is undergoing another coronavirus surge.

Two parents urged the board to make masks optional during a special December meeting, and several board members indicated they were leaning in that direction.

“I’m ready to make masks optional. We are all going to have to develop some intestinal fortitude,” said board member Susan Duncan, who was frustrated a vote was not being taken during the December meeting. “People are going to get sick, but we can’t keep going like this.”

JoAnna Fryman seemed to agree and said now that vaccines are available, it is time to make masks optional.

Dr. Crystal Miller, WEDCO public health director, strongly disagreed.

“If the board wants kids in school, taking away masks is not how to do it,” she said.

State vaccination records show that in Scott County 1,088 young people ages 5-11 have received the first dose and 12 percent of the county’s 5-to-11 population is fully vaccinated — two doses. The school system reports 4,148 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. That would mean at best about 26 percent of Scott County’s students are vaccinated, although state statistics likely include young people who are home schooled or attending private school. 

Forty-four percent of young people in Scott County, ages 12-15, are fully vaccinated or 1,477; 52 percent of young people ages 16-17 or 822 are fully vaccinated according to state records. Scott County Schools reports 5,209 students in that age range. That would mean at best 44 percent of Scott County’s students are fully vaccinated, although the state statistics likely include young people who are home schooled or attending private schools,  according to state statistics.

The Scott County Public Health Department is backlogged with cases as hundreds of people have been coming in for tests over the past week, Miller said. Last week — on Wednesday and Thursday — Scott County recorded its highest two-day total of new cases since the pandemic began in March 2020 with 210 cases. The health department ran out of test kits and had to turn people away, WEDCO reported.

“And those people are coming in because they are all symptomatic,” Miller said. 

Scott County reported 251 confirmed cases of young people 18 years of age or younger in December, according to WEDCO.

Health officials are anticipating a surge in COVID cases in January following holiday gatherings and people spending more time inside. The Omicron variant has not been detected in Scott County, but Miller said it is just a matter of time.

“This variant spreads like 18-to-1,” she said. “This variant could quickly put kids in jeopardy because it spreads so quickly and easily. Another factor the board should consider is that lifting the mask mandate puts the staff in jeopardy. Nicholas County Schools lifted its mandate and now has a serious staffing issue.

“Another very real issue is such a move might completely burden the school nurses. They’ll be spending all their time doing contract tracing and contacting parents. If you really want to keep kids in school, why would you even consider this?”

Miller acknowledged the children seem to handle the virus well, but she warned that young people with the virus might be doing well, but they may also be infecting parents, grandparents and adults who may not tolerate the virus well.

The regional health care system is fragile, and everyone must do all they can to support our hospitals and doctors, Miller said

“It’s not just COVID, it’s the flu, there is a stomach virus going around and a lot of health care issues have been delayed due to COVID,” she said. “We should do everything we can to support our health care delivery system. Our health care delivery system is very fragile right now.”

During the December meeting Courtney Casebolt, president of the Scott County Education Association, urged the board to keep mask mandates in place. 

“We must do all we can to maintain in-person classes,” Casebolt said adding other school districts opted for optional masks and later had to close due to COVID outbreaks. One of the school districts was Bourbon County.

“The Bourbon County outbreak only involved 13 students,” Duncan said.

Bourbon County Schools closed for five days in November when a large cluster of middle school students came down with COVID, said DeAnna Berry, a nurse and district health care coordinator.

“We had a large, large cluster of middle school students, teachers and aides come down with COVID at that time,” Berry said. “That school’s attendance had fallen to about 80 percent — in fact, the entire district’s attendance had fallen to about 80 percent.”

Bourbon County has adopted a mask policy requiring masks based upon the state’s 7-day incidence rate, or number of confirmed cases per 100,000 people.  Bourbon County was at the red level during that November outbreak, or about 25 cases per 100,000, Berry said.

Anthony Young, a parent of two, challenged the board to investigate the facts before voting on the mask mandate.

“It is time to let parents decide what is best for their children,” Young said. He said that both his children were suffering from acne outbreaks due to having to wear masks all day. He also questioned the school district’s arbitrary way to enforce the mask mandate.

“My bus driver does not wear a mask, yet all the students have to wear one,” he said. He said he recently attended a ballgame where half the people wore masks and half did not. “That’s okay, I think masks should be optional, but it seems there isn’t a consistent policy.”

Through the end of December, Scott County has reported 11,416 confirmed cases of COVID since the pandemic began, including 72 deaths. In December alone, the county had 1,198 new cases, which is almost 10.5 percent of the county’s total cases since the pandemic began 21 months ago. Nine COVID deaths were reported in December with 34 hospitalizations, including 25 who were unvaccinated, seven who were vaccinated  and the vaccination status of two was unknown, according to WEDCO.

The Scott County Board of Education is schedule to meet this Thursday at the Great Crossing administrative building at 6:30 p.m. The News-Graphic is planning to broadcast a portion of the school board meeting on Facebook Live.

 

Mike Scogin can be reached at mscogin@news-graphic.com. 

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