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Health director: Now is not the time to remove masks in schools

Jahd Khalil
Radio IQ
A sign noting the mask requirement at a school in Hopewell.

On Tuesday, Roanoke County’s school board voted to make masks optional for students if Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin removes a state mandate after he takes office. Youngkin has said he intends to do so.

That brought this response from Doctor Cynthia Morrow, director of the Roanoke City-Alleghany Health District. "Unfortunately we’re in the middle of a huge storm. And with that storm we need all the layers of protection. So I would say strongly and without doubt that now is not the time to take away any of those layers." During a call with reporters Thursday morning, Morrow noted that the district has already seen 550 new COVID-19 cases this week after setting a record the week before.

Morrow says data from the Centers for Disease Control is clear. "Schools that implement universal masking have far fewer outbreaks. Three-and-a-half times fewer outbreaks. But more importantly the incidence of COVID is much lower."

Thursday afternoon, the Roanoke County school board reversed course, and rescinded the mask motion. Board members said the earlier motion was unclear about when it could take effect and might violate state law.

But all five said they’ll make masks optional at the first opportunity. "I stand by my position that once Governor-elect Youngkin gives us guidance, does away with the VDH public health order, we follow that guidance," Cheryl Facciani said during Thursday's meeting. "We go mask optional at that time." Facciani was the only board member to vote against rescinding the motion.

Morrow said health and school officials are all committed to keeping kids safe and in school as much as possible. Weekly calls between school superintendents and the health department have been productive.

David Seidel is Radio IQ's News Director.