Experts continue to encourage masking in schools as districts vote on policies

North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN)- While some schools will require masking this upcoming school year, others will not. North Carolina is leaving it up to individual districts to come up with their own rules.

Right now, the state is reporting 15 COVID-19 clusters in K through 12 schools.

A cluster is an outbreak of 5 or more cases.

Some public health experts looking at these numbers say they will get worse if masking is not required in all schools.

“We know that children can spread COVID-19. That has been proven over and over and over again,” said Dr. Kanecia Obie Zimmerman, associate professor of pediatrics with Duke Health.

Zimmerman said schools should really be enforcing masking.

“Masking is one of the most important things, particularly if you want to get all the kids back into school,” she said.

Zimmerman helped lead the ABC Science Collaborative’s study into COVID-19 in schools. They found transmission rates were low in many schools because of masking enforcement.

“This did not happen by chance,” Zimmerman said.

Dr. Daniel Benjamin, a professor of pediatrics at Duke agreed.

“A mask policy is only as good as the enforcement and the adherence,” Benjamin said.

Only 5 percent of children ages 12 to 17 have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Benjamin said until those rates go up – all grade levels need to mask up.

The state’s updated toolkit supports masking.

It tells schools that even if a child is exposed to the virus, they don’t have to quarantine as long as they were masked during their exposure.

“That’s huge because last year thousands of kids missed thousands of school days. So if we can do masking, we can keep kids in school,” said Zimmerman.

But some schools are making up their own policies as they go. Many districts have yet to decide on masking rules.

“People whose job it is to keep you alive encourage masking. People who are running for re-election have very mixed opinions,” said Benjamin.

For those who vote to not enforce them, Benjamin said, “Best of luck with that.”

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