Meck County updates mask mandate to include private, parochial schools

CHARLOTTE — Mecklenburg County health officials released an update Monday to the county’s mask mandate after Catholic school leaders expressed confusion over the policy.

This comes after Catholic school leaders originally told parents that their children are not subject to the city’s new mask mandate.

County Health Director Gibbie Harris spoke with Mecklenburg Area Catholic Schools Superintendent Dr. Gregory Monroe on Friday morning and said the mask mandate will be updated to include clearer language that it applies to public, private and parochial schools.

On Monday, Monroe sent a letter to parents to say that masks will be required indoors beginning Wednesday, but MACS will allow parents to fill out an exemption form to opt out, without medical documentation.

On Sunday, Monroe sent a letter to parents saying COVID-19 protocols could change as they wait for the updated guidance from the county on the mask mandate.

Monroe also sent a statement to Channel 9 on Monday after his conversation with Harris:

“We appreciate the Mecklenburg County Health Department’s efforts to clarify the intent and revise the language of its mask mandate. After conversations with the County today, we understand they intended for schools to be covered by the mask mandate, including private and parochial schools – even though these schools are not public places or establishments covered in the initial Public Health Rule. We will review the revised Rule and adjust our operations as necessary. We remain committed to safely providing in-person instruction and as normal a learning environment as possible, as we have done since the beginning of the pandemic. Nothing is more important to us than the health and well-being of our families, staff and students, and the continued holistic development of bodies, minds and souls.”

On Monday, the county clarified that all schools (public, private and parochial) and all businesses (public and private) are now required to wear face coverings in all indoor public places.

The proclamation continues to mandate that face coverings be worn in any indoor public place, business, or establishment within the City of Charlotte and the unincorporated areas of Mecklenburg County, regardless of vaccination status. This requirement applies to all individuals who are at least five years of age.

Last week, the Diocese of Charlotte’s Office of Catholic Schools sent out a letter following Charlotte and Mecklenburg County’s mask mandate announcement earlier this week, saying they are not requiring masks in their schools, and telling parents they should decide for their children.

The letter underscored that they’re frequently cleaning and sanitizing the schools.

“These rules do not reference schools, which are not public spaces,” the letter reads. “We would like to reiterate our policy that face covering are optional for our students, family and staff.”

Some families Channel 9 spoke with on Friday said they were torn and confused about the letter. Parent Erin Dewaters said she believes masks should be mandatory, given the spike in recent COVID cases.

“I do believe the right thing to do is to put a mask requirement in place,” she said. “It’s keeping me up at night. It has been for weeks.”

Monroe addressed parents in a video message last week.

“We continue to prioritize as normal of a leaning environment as possible while still ensuring the upmost safety of our schools,” he said.

Although the county’s initial written order did not reference schools, Harris explained it does extend to all public indoor buildings.

“In terms of private schools, for example, in the document it speaks to all public indoor spaces that includes private entities, nonprofits, grocery stores, you name it,” Harris said. “Private schools are also included in that.”

Some parents told Channel 9 that a mask-optional policy is the best way to go.

The health department previously said there could be penalties if people don’t comply with the new mandate but it’s unclear what that could mean in this case.

Check back with wsoctv.com for updates on this story.

(WATCH BELOW: Mecklenburg leaders vote to implement countywide indoor mask mandate in 10 days)