Editorial: Numbers prove Rowan-Salisbury Schools did the right thing

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 16, 2021

Understandably, local school boards across North Carolina are worried about the number of healthy, quarantined students.

With just a few hundred positive tests, it seems a little excessive to have thousands quarantined. About four weeks ago in Rowan-Salisbury Schools, for example, there were nearly 300 active student positives and more than 3,000 students in quarantine. As a result, the school board voted to extend its indoor mask mandate.

The deciding factor for Brian Hightower, the swing vote in the first and second mask mandate, was keeping kids in school buildings. Guidance from health officials eliminates the need to quarantine if everyone is masked and a student in a classroom tests positive.

Dislike masks all you want, Hightower and the school board made the right decision. Proof of that lies in the sharp decrease seen in quarantines and positives. After quarantines peaked at more than 3,000, they decreased to 2,431. During a Monday school board meeting, RSS reported 1,178 quarantines.

Masks are not a panacea, and they do not produce an immediate effect when mandated because quarantines require a number of days at home, but quarantines are clearly down from where they were at the start of the mandate. A similar story is true about COVID-19 cases, which take time to show symptoms for the infection and spread. Someone exposed today may not show symptoms for up to 14 days.

Even if the ongoing decline in cases reverses itself later, the school system can be sure it’s taking reasonable steps to prevent schools from becoming sites where COVID-19 is spreading.

School board members should continue to follow advice from professionals instead of people who find supposed evidence about the effectiveness of masks from dark corners of the internet. In one viral video, a man described himself as having a Ph.D. from Oxford. The video clip failed to clarify he’s not a medical doctor and that the Oxford he’s referring to is an Ohio city, not the prestigious university. Mostly, people don’t seem to worry about these kinds of omissions when holding up a viral social media post as expert proof of one thing or another.

Board member Travis Allen framed the Rowan-Salisbury Schools situation well during a meeting this week. While Allen voted against the current masking rules, he appears to recognize their effectiveness.

“On our quarantines, 1,178, that’s significantly down,” Allen said. “I don’t think any board member really likes how things are quarantining. There’s all issues across the board, but I think that number, to see that drastic amount of number change since our last meeting, I think it’s a testament that the schools are doing as good as they can. … If we can see this much improvement to the next meeting, we’ve really made some good steps in our quarantining.”

Union County public schools appear to be on an entirely different path than Rowan-Salisbury Schools and the entire state in protecting students — choosing not to worry about COVID-19 at all. There, masks are optional. A Monday vote did away with quarantines except for cases where students test positive or have clear COVID-19 symptoms. School nurses also won’t conduct contact tracing, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Local school board members may have seen the news out of Union County, but they should let that district forge its own path, especially because of RSS’ unique renewal status. Flipping the proverbial table over and ignoring guidance won’t stop COVID-19 from spreading. It could result in the state staking over COVID-19 protocols, too.