GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Gaston County health officials issued a warning Wednesday after more than 100 school-aged children tested positive for COVID-19 as students prepare to return to the classroom. On Thursday, county officials said that approximately 200 children were in isolation after having tested positive in the past 10 days.
Officials said that this time last year, the county’s daily case numbers were in the 30s and 40s. This past weekend, Gaston County reported 451 new cases of COVID-19.
The county said the children who tested positive will be in isolation for at least 10 days and likely have close contacts from summer activities who have to quarantine for two weeks.
Many of the close contacts will now miss their first day of school or more if they end up testing positive.
“As you can imagine, we are very concerned with case counts this high and school starting in two weeks. If one of these positive children was not wearing a mask in their classroom, any child sitting within 6 feet, regardless of whether they were masked, would have to stay home from school for two weeks (unless they were vaccinated),” the Gaston County Department of Health & Human Services said in a statement.
The county said it wanted the public to be aware of the data as they make decisions about how best to protect their children and help them have a healthy and successful school year.
Last month, Gaston County school board members voted to let parents decide whether students will wear masks at school.
Shirley Davis, whose grandson is a kindergartner, said she likes that masks are optional.
“I believe choice is the best way to go,” she said
Davis said her grandson will likely start school wearing a mask.
“I personally think it’s the best idea for him, but he has gone without it before,” she said.
Pam Miller is a first grade teacher and President of the Association of Educators in Gaston County. She is encouraging parents to send their kids to school with masks and got emotional when she told Channel 9 that she worries about children without them.
“Every life is precious and it would break my heart to even lose one child,” she said.
Miller believes masks made a tremendous difference last year and without them, she worries that children will get sick in large numbers.
“It is something I think about a lot,” she said. “Especially considering the start of school in 2020, students were only in school two days a week. Everyone had to be screened and wear a mask. Those mitigation practices are not in place this year.”
The average number of daily positives in Gaston County continues a steep incline, averaging over 100 new cases a day. Officials said 54 people are currently hospitalized with four of them on ventilators, and around 93% of those hospitalized are not vaccinated.
37% of the county’s population is vaccinated, according to health officials.
Children under 12 still don’t qualify to get vaccinated.
Statement from Gaston County Public Health Director Steve Eaton:
We’ve had numerous requests for additional information related to school-age exposures following Monday’s data update. As we mentioned in the update, we are certainly alarmed at the acceleration of cases locally and state-wide. Cases have increased across all ages and demographics; however the overwhelming majority are from unvaccinated individuals. Vaccination continues to be our best chance of slowing this rapid spread.
Below please find answers to some of the more frequently asked questions and we will continue to provide data weekly on the impact to children as we enter into the school year. If your child is eligible and has not yet received the vaccine, we strongly encourage you to speak to your child’s pediatrician to help you make the best decision for your child starting the school year safely.
How many children have been diagnosed with COVID-19?
- Currently, we have approximately 200 children in isolation (children who have tested positive in the last 10 days).
- The increase in cases among children is proportional to the increase of total cases. Last August, about 16% of our cases were in children and this August we are at 17%. The real concern is that we have so many more cases right now than we did last August as school was starting back. Daily counts in 30s and 40s compared to the 133 Wednesday and 127 we received today.
How many were vaccinated or eligible for vaccinations?
- We do not have good data on the vaccination status of our positive cases, but out of the 359 cases in children we had in July and August, 19% were age 0-4, 27% were age 5-10, 16% were age 11-13, and 38% were age 14-18. Children ages 12 and over are eligible to receive the vaccine.
Any of the kids hospitalized?
- We are not aware of any Gaston County children who are hospitalized at this time. Even though the delta variant is more transmissible, it does not appear to cause more significant illness in children.
What impact does masking have on quarantine recommendations?
- If a positive child is masked, contacts who are masked do not have to quarantine but should monitor symptoms and should they become symptomatic, stay home and get tested.
- If a positive child is masked, contacts who are unmasked must quarantine for 14 days.
- If a positive child is unmasked, all contacts must quarantine for 14 days regardless of whether or not they were masked.
- If a contact is vaccinated, they do not have to quarantine unless they develop symptoms. Then they should stay home and get tested.
- A close contact is someone who was within 6 feet of an infected individual for more than 15 minutes.
(WATCH: Local doctor frustrated as COVID-19 cases increase in Gaston County)
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