DARE COUNTY, N.C. (WAVY) — The Currituck County Board of Education reversed its decision on masks being optional last week.
Meanwhile, nearby Dare County Schools is still not requiring masks for their students, staff, or visitors.
It’s a decision a local hospital official says has taken a toll on them.
10 On Your Side obtained a letter from Outer Banks Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Daniel Dwyer that pleaded for a mask mandate in Dare County Schools.
“Our children look to us to keep them safe. Many of them hold a special place in my heart because I delivered them at our hospital. My hope for each of them then and now is that they remain safe and have every opportunity to experience an excellent education,” he wrote.
“As a physician, husband, father, and community member, I am telling you that we are in a crisis. We must make difficult decisions now in order to save lives,” he continued.
As of Monday morning, Dare County Schools has 61 active cases with 319 people quarantined.
10 On Your Side spoke with a parent whose child is one of those quarantined.
She wanted to stay anonymous but says her third-grade son attends Nags Head Elementary School. On Saturday evening, she says she was told he needed to quarantine after another student tested positive for COVID-19.
She says she was never sent any further guidance even after reaching out to the principal and teacher.
“There should have been a plan. ‘This is what you need to do on Monday morning. Log on, do this, this.’ I don’t feel like it’s that difficult to have a plan when we’ve been dealing with this the past year,” she said.
Now, she worries this situation will lead to an even bigger learning gap.
“I really do feel like he was intellectually smarter in first grade than he is currently and he’s starting third grade,” said the parent.
The Digital Communications and Secondary School Director with Dare County Schools responded, “From my understanding, the Nags Head Elementary students that you are referring to were notified of quarantine over the weekend. Since today is the first school day since the students were notified, our teachers and administrators contacted each family this morning with instructions on how to access assignments. Students in quarantine are welcome to access assignments from Google Classroom, or the school will provide the assignments in paper form.”
On Wednesday evening the Dare County Board of Education will meet for a special called session at First Flight High School. A press release says the purpose of the public meeting is to review and consider local COVID-19 data since the start of this school year.
Read the full letter from Dwyer below:
“Dear Fellow Community Leaders,
“As chief of staff for close to 350 providers through The Outer Banks Hospital, I write to request that you urgently mandate masking for Dare County students until this Delta variant surge is no longer a threat.
“The Delta variant has proved to be more transmissible and harmful to those it infects, including children. It is imperative we do all we can to protect our students, many of whom are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Masks are a simple and effective measure that can make schools a safer place for students to learn. This does not have to be an academic year decision. Instead, I’m urging you to make a strategic decision to help get this immediate threat under control now.
“Last year at this time, there were 21 cases of COVID-19 in Dare County. Today there are over 250 with a variant so contagious that each positive individual likely spreads the virus to six other people. In just the first week of the school year, we’ve witnessed children testing positive for COVID-19 and many being quarantined. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Vidant Medical Center is full and Children’s Hospital of The Kings Daughters is currently stacking patients. All beds are occupied at The Outer Banks Hospital and we’re having an increasingly difficult time transferring patients who require a higher level of care because hospitals throughout the region are also operating at-capacity. Some patients are waiting several days in the Emergency Department for care.
“Staffing shortages have forced us to reduce hours at both Outer Banks Urgent Care facilities in Kitty Hawk and Nags Head effective this Saturday, Aug. 28 so that we can continue serving the community while still caring for our frontline teams.
“I don’t have to tell you that these challenges have a direct effect on the health outcomes of patients. Hospitalizations of those suffering from COVID-19 means there are fewer beds and resources for our community members experiencing other serious health challenges.
“Our children look to us to keep them safe. Many of them hold a special place in my heart because I delivered them at our hospital. My hope for each of them then and now is that they remain safe and have every opportunity to experience an excellent education.
“As a physician, husband, father, and community member, I am telling you that we are in a crisis. We must make difficult decisions now in order to save lives. Following CDC recommendations for masking in schools will go a long way toward keeping students in school, and teachers and parents at work. If we do not do so, our local healthcare workforce and services will be adversely impacted as students who are not masked will require testing, quarantine and possibly hospitalization.
“I look forward to partnering with you to keep our students in the classroom and local access to healthcare strong for everyone who needs it.
Daniel Dwyer, MD
Chief of Staff
The Outer Banks Hospital“