At its monthly meeting Tuesday (Oct. 12th), the Lincoln County Board of Education again approved a 'masks optional' policy until its November meeting.
Before the board considered the mask policy, required by state law to be reconsidered each month, the public comments portion of the meeting heard from 21 different speakers who had signed up to address the board. Since the school board's policy is to allow no more than 30 minutes for the public to speak, each of the speakers was limited to a minute and a half.
Most of those who addressed the board spoke in favor of renewing a mask mandate. Among them were three doctors, two teachers, and two students. Speakers on both sides of the debate over masks drew cheers from the members of the audience supporting their side of the debate.
When the public comments ended, Rusty Sain, who has been in charge of the schools' COVID Protocol, presented the latest information from the Lincoln County Health Dept. Sain said Davin Madden, Health Director, wasn't able to be at the meeting, so he (Sain) presented the report.
The 14-day average of new cases over the last 14 days is now 35.2; that's the lowest number of average new cases reported daily since early August. The percentage of new cases among school age (or younger) children has dropped to the lowest number since mid-August.
The following are important statistics: first, the number of Lincoln County residents who have died to date since the beginning of the pandemic; second, the percentage of new cases over the previous 14 days that were in the 0-17 age bracket; third, the 14-day average of all new cases.
Oct. 6 108 dead, 17% 0-17, 14-day avg 40.2
Sep. 30 101 dead, 32% 0-17, 14-day avg 53.9
Sep. 22 99 dead, 35% 0-17, 14-day avg 60.1
Sep. 15 96 dead, 36% 0-17, 14-day avg 59.8
Sep. 8 94 dead, 31% 0-17, 14-day avg 57.6
Sep. 1 93 dead, 22% 0-17, 14-day avg 56.4
Aug. 25 90 dead, 19% 0-17, 14-day avg 54.6
Aug. 18 90 dead, 17% 0-17, 14-day avg 48.9
Aug. 11 90 dead, 14% 0-17, 14-day avg 36.3
Aug. 4 89 dead, 14% 0-17, 14-day avg 25.6
July 28 89 dead, 14% 0-17, 14-day avg 16.9
Following Sain's sharing of Madden's report came board discussion:
Board member Myra Heavner: Did Mr. Madden make a recommendation?
Sain: He did not give me a recommendation...and I do not have a recommendation for you; I guess I Could make one, but I don't know if it's my place to make a recommendation.
Board member Todd Wulfhorst: somebody needs to make one. You're standing there, so make one.
Board chair Mark Mullen: we do have to vote on this each month moving forward.
Sain: I don't have anything else to present to you.
Wulfhorst: I want to know your recommendation.
Sain: I would say my recommendation is this: based on the tool kit, if two students are wearing masks or two adults are wearing masks, we don't have to send as many people home...
Board member Heather Rhyne: what at this point we need parents to do is to reach out to the state level about the quarantine rules, because it is a very back-handed way to make our children mask. We didn't write the quarantine rules...what we need parents to do is reach out to the state level about quarantining healthy kids and how that's not okay.
Heavner then spoke at length, ending by making a motion to return to a 'masks required' policy. As usual, the vote was 4-3 against the motion with Rhyne, Mullen, Jenkins and Sutton voting 'no' and Heavner, Wulfhorst & Avery voting 'yes.' Then came a motion from Rhyne to continue 'masks optional.' That vote was also 4-3, with the same four who had voted against the first motion voting 'yes' and the three who had voted for the first motion voting 'no.'
As the Lincoln Herald reported earlier this week, the numbers of cases in Lincoln County Schools have gone down, not up, since the 'masks optional' policy was put in place September 29th. It's also true that the numbers in other area school systems who have continued their mask mandates have likewise declined, and that the numbers of new cases have declined countywide, statewide and nationwide in the past few weeks.
As Sain reported in his comments, the number of confirmed cases in Lincoln County Schools last week was 60 (the third straight week of lower numbers) and 96 students were quarantined. The week before there were 82 confirmed cases and 136 students quanrantined.