Guilford County Schools weighs mask requirement after new CDC recommendations

Piedmont Triad News

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Is it time to mask up again?

On Tuesday, Guilford County Schools leaders will meet to decide whether or not to require students and staff to wear masks for the upcoming school year.

This comes as the CDC announced new guidance, recommending even vaccinated people cover their faces again in indoor spaces in parts of the U.S. with “substantial and high” coronavirus transmission.

The CDC’s website has a map that shows counties with substantial and high transmission.

Health leaders have also advised that as kids head back to school, students and teachers should put masks on.

Guilford County Schools officials have asked the Guilford County Board of Education to approve a universal mask mandate, requiring everyone to cover their faces inside of their buildings.

They say it’s because some students are eligible to get the vaccine and rising case counts in the county.

The request has gotten a lot of mixed reactions from parents and board members.

“I don’t make my child wear a mask when we go out in public,” said Sandy Sepulveda, a mom.

With less than a month away from the start of school, how kids get back to the classroom safely, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, is up for debate.

“The science all told us if we got vaccinated, we don’t have to wear masks,” said Pat Tillman, who represents District Three for Guilford County Schools.

“I’m OK with [kids] wearing masks again, for their safety and for everyone else, whether they’re vaccinated or not,” added mom, Rachel Whitsett.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Guilford County Schools leaders who sent out a memo to the Board of Education ahead of Tuesday night’s meeting.

In the memo, officials note the spike of percent positive COVID tests in the county, and the state health department’s new Strong Schools NC toolkit, which recommends masking up for kids K-8, and who are not vaccinated.

“I think if they follow that model this year, everything will hopefully be OK,” Whitsett said. “There are cases where even those vaccinated are contracting the virus as well.”

The district’s legal counsel has also advised the school system to keep students’ vaccination status voluntary, with the exception of students who are participating in sports and high-risk extracurricular activities.

The lack of information could make it difficult when enforcing mask-wearing.

“To get in trouble for not wearing a mask… I don’t like that,” Sepulveda said. “You can’t live in fear, so I don’t worry too much.”

Tillman told FOX8 to require masks at this point in the pandemic is taking things too far.

“I think it should be optional. If I had to guess, I think the board is going to accept the recommendations,” he said. “COVID is going to be with us, I believe, for a long time. Very similar to the flu. And again, if we’re going to follow science, if we’re going to follow data like we have said from the offset… the data clearly shows children do not spread the virus.”

In addition to the mask mandate, school leaders are asking the board to approve mandatory COVID testing for students and staff who are not vaccinated, who also participate in sports and extracurricular activities.

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