GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — On Monday night, Gaston County Schools reversed course and voted 6-3 in favor of requiring masks indoors at schools through the week of Sept. 20.
The board initially voted in July to let parents decide whether their kids will wear masks at school, but backtracked days after 110 school-aged children tested positive for COVID-19 as students prepare to return to the classroom.
During July’s meeting, many parents wanted the board to give them the right to choose.
“The parents have a better insight regarding the physical and or emotional health of their own child,” said parent Michael Crisp. “This board should be assisting in these areas not mandating these requirements.”
Some of those same parents urged the board to stay the course during Monday’s meeting, but the board instead voted to require masks for the first month of school. During the public comment period of the meeting, a group of doctors pushed the board to go back to a mask mandate.
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The reversal came as a complete surprise to many parents, but the board indicated that it was the presentation by the health department director that left a majority of members believing an outbreak was inevitable.
After public comment, the board listened to the health department’s director, Steve Eaton, who updated them on the rate of COVID spread in the county. Eaton told them all of the virus metrics are going in the wrong direction.
The county’s percent positive rate is currently at 17.7% compared to 5.5% four weeks ago. Gaston County is currently reporting 140 new COVID cases per day compared to just three or four per day a month ago.
Parents who came out on the winning side last month when the board voted to give them a choice of whether their children should have to wear a mask urged the board to stay the course on Monday night. Clearly, both sides are dug in on the issue and during a break, reporter Glenn Counts spoke with two of the doctors who attended the meeting, as well as a parent who supports being able to choose.
“Everybody wants to get rid of these masks but, unfortunately, with this delta variant, the levels have gotten so high it’s even worse than it was last year,” said Dr. Crystal Bowe.
When asked if she believes what the doctors were saying, parent Cathy Gibbs bluntly said no.
“Not at all,” she said. “I don’t think the PCR tests are correct. I think there is irrelevant information. We’ve already determined there is no test for the delta variant, so how do you know it’s worse? I think it’s the flu. I think it’s politicized. I think it’s all B.S.”
Dr. Brian Buzzeo, a urologist, told Gibbs that he has seen the effects of COVID-19 firsthand in the hospitals.
“I can tell you I have directly -- we have patients who are dying. We have ventilators that are filling up,” he said.
But Gibbs was unwavering.
“I don’t believe it, I’m sorry. Not at all,” she said.
“Are you suggesting they are making it up?” Counts asked her.
“Somewhat, yeah. I honestly do,” she answered.
The board said the week of Sept. 20, which is its next meeting, it will reassess whether to continue with the mask requirement or switch to a mask-optional plan.
(WATCH BELOW: How to know if you have the delta COVID-19 variant)
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