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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Kannapolis Schools Will Require Masks As COVID Cases Surge, Cabarrus Board Takes More Time

 Cabarrus County health officials Monday asked the school board to reverse its mask-optional policy when schools open Aug. 23.
Cabarrus Health Alliance
Cabarrus County health officials Monday asked the school board to reverse its mask-optional policy when schools open Aug. 23.

Monday night, Cabarrus County health officials presented the school board with an array of data showing COVID-19 cases are rising, especially among school-age and preschool children.

"Essentially we really just want to drive home the point that we are in excessive community transmission of COVID," said Erin Shoe of the Cabarrus Health Alliance, formerly known as the health department.

Earlier that evening, the Kannapolis City Schools board had looked at that data and decided to reverse its mask-optional decision. The district, which serves about 5,000 students within Cabarrus County, will require masks for everyone, effective Tuesday.

Cabarrus County schools serves about 32,000 students, one of North Carolina's 10 largest districts. That board meeting opened with protests outside by Cabarrus Association of Educators members urging universal masking when schools open Aug. 23.

Cabarrus Public Health Director Bonnie Coyle told the board the mask-optional policy currently in place increases the risk of spreading COVID-19 and the need to send students into quarantine if they're exposed.

"Let’s get those kids back in school, learning in person," she said. "But let’s apply universal masking, as the research from our own state has shown is going to make a huge, huge difference."

The board then heard from almost 40 members of the public. Some doctors, teachers and parents urged the board to protect kids by requiring masks. Others questioned the value of masks and called for parental freedom to decide.

Board members Carolyn Carpenter and Keisha Sandidge said they were ready to adopt the health alliance's recommendation and require masks. But other five members said they wanted more time to review data, and to wait for the arrival of Superintendent John Kopicki, who will be sworn in Aug. 16.

"We need to continue to look at the numbers," said Vice Chair Tim Furr. "This is not like a transportation issue, where you need to have time to plan. I mean, we can make one phone call through the school and wear a mask tomorrow, or mask optional tomorrow. To me it's not a pressing issue right now."

Interim Superintendent Brian Schultz noted that the district already has three schools holding classes with masks optional. And he warned the board that another week is unlikely to bring better numbers.

He said there were preliminary numbers on the current week that hadn't been included in slides.

"On Friday we had 100 new cases in the county," Schultz said. "On Saturday, Sunday and Monday we had 500 cases. So right now we have a total of 600 cases, which already exceeds the number of cases that we had last week. So I have a growing concern that this is not slowing down."

The Cabarrus school board scheduled a special meeting for Aug. 16 — one week before students return to classrooms — to revisit the mask question.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.