Gaston County's Board of Education voted Monday evening (Nov. 15th) to end the schools' mask mandate effective Monday Nov. 29th. The vote came after Health Director Steve Eaton made his monthly report, telling the board that the county's positivity test rate for COVID-19 was 9.18% last week and the county remains in the high transmission category for spread of the virus. Eaton asked the board to continue requiring masks, but board member Brent Moore made a motion to change to 'masks optional' seconded by Robbie Lovelace and the board passed the motion by a 7-2 vote; only Lee Dedmon and Dot Guthrie voted 'no.' The change won't take place until after the Thanksgiving break.
Lincoln County Schools went 'masks optional' on September 29th. Lincoln Charter School also became 'masks optional' in October. Cleveland County Schools discontinued their mask mandate effective this week. Catawba County Schools deadlocked 3-3 last week on a vote to change, so they are still 'masks required.'
Eastern Lincoln County has seen a sudden increase in the number of new cases of COVID-19 that is reflected in the weekly report on cases by Lincoln County Schools. The overall decline in new cases in the county, area and state continue, however. While the Lincoln County Health Dept. won't put out its COVID SNAPSHOT report until Wedneday, the county averaged 26 new cases per day over the last seven days, up slightly from the 18.8 average for the two weeks ending last Wednesday. Catawba County averaged 27 new cases daily last week; Gaston County, 50; and Cleveland County, 18. The statewide average of new cases daily last week was 1,829. All of those are up just slightly from the previous week, but do not represent any significant surge in cases. On Monday, the NCDHHS reported 1,361 new cases.
Several experts, including a top epidemiologist on whom we have relied for much of our information, have expressed concern that a fifth wave of new cases will like happen from Thanksgiving through New Year's. Our source says, however, that with more people getting vaccinated, the mortality rate is already declining and that will likely continue. 20 states reported an increase in new cases last week, but most of those states are only now experiencing the fourth wave that hit most others in late Summer, early Fall.
The rate of new cases in Lincoln County Schools has been mostly steady since the change to 'masks optional.' Last week, East Lincoln High School had 16 new cases. St. James Elementary had 7; North Lincoln High School had 6; East Lincoln Middle School had 5 as did Lincolnton High School. Two new cases were reported at Battleground, Iron Station, Lincolnton Middle, Pumpkin Center Intermediate and Pumpkin Center Primary; and one each at Asbury Academy, North Lincoln Middle, West Lincoln Middle and West Lincoln High. The school system had a total of 53 new cases for the week, up from 45 the previous week.
A few grocery stores, among them Food Lion and Harris Teeter, began requiring their employees to wear masks and suggested it for customers when the fourth wave hit in late July/early August; but most stores are not requiring masks now, and most customers are no longer wearing them.
Vaccinations are now approved for those 5 years old or older and the percentage of the population vaccinated continues to increase slowly. Over 50% of the population remains unvaccinated.