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Lincoln County Schools Allow Masks To Come Off Wednesday

Masks will be optional in Lincoln County Schools starting Wednesday. That makes the district northwest of Charlotte the fourth North Carolina school district allowing staff and students to opt out of wearing masks inside schools.

The largest is Union County, on the other side of Charlotte. Two more districts outside the region have voted to lift their mask mandates next week. State law requires all districts to vote monthly on mask policies (find the North Carolina School Boards Association's running tally here).

National and state health officials say universal use of face coverings is the best way to control the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant in schools. Last week Lincoln County’s health director wrote to school officials asking them to reconsider and stick with mandatory masks.

"Currently, Lincoln County has seen a significant increase in positive cases among younger people, ages 0-17," Health Director Davin Madden wrote in a letter dated Sept. 22. He wrote that other metrics put the entire county at a level of extreme risk for community transmission.

According to the health department's most recent dashboard, fewer than half the county's residents are vaccinated and children under 18 accounted for more than one-third of all cases over the past two weeks.

The Lincoln school board voted Sept. 14 to lift the mandate. At the same time the board voted not to quarantine students who are exposed to COVID-19 symptoms but don't have symptoms or test positive. State rules allow that when everyone is properly masked, but require quarantines for unvaccinated students who aren't protected by consistent mask use.

But Friday the district issued a statement saying it has agreed to follow the local health department's rules and exclude students who are exposed. A spokesperson said Monday that will include asymptomatic students when masks are optional.

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