By Bonnie Jo Taylor

Ever since its first reported cases, COVID-19 has presented obstacles all over the world. One of the most prominent arguments it has produced has been over the effectiveness of mask mandates in public places. Such debates have been encouraged by the wide range of public opinion. Diversity of emotions and actions taken as a result of those sentiments are present in all kinds of communities. This dynamic also applies to the students and teachers of Davie County High School.

The Weekly Talon has polled the students and teachers of Davie High in order to discover more about how individuals within the school feel about the masks. More specifically, students and teachers were questioned on their opinions of the optional mask mandate and whether or not they wear one during the school day.

The optional mask mandate set in place in early November by the Board of Education has remained in place for the entirety of the month. Below are the results of the poll provided by the Weekly Talon that was distributed to the school in late November. Students and teachers gave their honest opinions on the topic that further outline the debate currently gripping the nation. 

The Optional Mask Mandate:

On November 2nd, 2021, the Davie County Board of Education voted that Davie County Schools would no longer require masks in the school building. Employees and students were given the option to wear a mask, and nobody was to be forced to make a decision one way or the other.

Prior to the Board’s removal of the mandate, large numbers of parents began demanding that their children be unmasked. In support of their demands, the parents presented claims that masks caused health problems and are ineffective in protecting students against the virus. All of these claims were made in order to convince Board officials to no longer require masks in school buildings.

Davie High students and staff were polled on how much, if at all, they wear masks. The results (displayed below) clearly indicate the massive drop in mask wearing since the mandate was revoked, with about 64% of people no longer keeping one on during the day. About 16% of students and staff wear masks during select times, such as in the hallway, and 20% wear masks during the entire school day.

Results of Davie High Weekly Talon Survey Question: “Now that masks are optional, do you wear one during the school day?”

The next question in the survey asked the participants to select one of four answer choices that best represented how they felt about the optional mask mandate. The results are displayed below and indicate a further division in opinion among students and teachers.

Results of Davie High Weekly Talon Survey Question: “Which of these options best matches your opinion on the optional mask mandate?”

When taking a look at each category of the answers separately, the largest percentage is that of those who are very relieved that masks are no longer mandatory. This is closely followed in percentage by those who do not have a preference either way. When combined, however, the number of responses indicating people firmly against the masks are outnumbered by the combined percentages of the other choices.

Immediately following this question, students and teachers were asked to elaborate on their responses. As only four answer choices were provided in the multiple-choice question of the survey, elaborations were requested in order to allow people to explain their mindsets. 

The students and teachers of Davie High have a variety of sentiments when it comes to masks, and their elaborations on these recent decisions reflect as much. Some of the responses solely conveyed the particpant’s opinions, whereas others incorporated data or facts to support their stances. Many individuals expressed relief at a return to the norm (“I think it’s nice to have some normalcy again”, one student states). Others worried that the decision to remove masks was premature and would lead to problems. As one teacher points out, “COVID has NOT gone away! We have to stay diligent about our mitigation policies to keep everyone safe!”

Several people who answered displayed concern over the claim that wearing a mask weakens the immune system against other illnesses than COVID. According to a report published by Harvard University, however, the drop in influenza cases during the COVID pandemic in the last flu season is predominantly credited to the large number of people wearing a mask. While this data is specifically oriented towards influenza cases, it should be relieving to those concerned about masks causing outside illnesses. For more information on the benefits of mask wearing, visit this website (created by the CDC).

On the opposing side of the opinions, several concerns were voiced over the possible prematurity of removing the mask requirement. More than one teacher at Davie points out that COVID has not disappeared overnight. There must be precautions taken in order to protect those at risk from the virus. These worries were voiced by participants of the survey, specifically oriented towards immunocompromised individuals. 

Other responses to the question provided insight into how the students in particular feel about opposing views. Some students and teachers expressed concerns similar to the ones used by parents about the masks causing illnesses. In order to find information on this issue and other frequently asked questions, visit this website by Novant Health.

The Advice of Experts

So when exactly is it safe for masks to be removed in the classrooms? An article from the National Public Radio (NPR) outlines the opinions of experts and officials from across the country. The majority of those cited in the article explain that, right now, it is not wise to unmask children in schools with the percentage of infection rates being so high nationwide. Health officials recommend keeping a mandatory mask mandate in place until the start of next semester. Enforcing mask wearing is the most cost effective protective measure to institute. 

There are some instances where masks may be removed in a classroom, according to the experts cited in the article. The Massachusetts State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says that schools could safely open immediately if 80% of staff and students are fully vaccinated. In this suggestion, proof of vaccination would have to be presented and those who do not receive the vaccine would have to stay masked. Other officials state that schools should not remove their mandates until young children (ages 5-11) have gotten a chance to be vaccinated. 

NPR also provides a map of the transmission percentages of COVID-19 in all the counties nationwide.. All information in this map comes from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). According to the CDC, “a county has “high transmission” if it has 100 or more weekly cases per 100,000 residents or a 10% or greater test positivity rate in the last seven days.” Davie County has been classified as a “high transmission” county for at least the last four weeks.

As of December 6th, 2021, four Davie County schools (Shady Grove Elementary, William R. Elementary, South Davie Middle and Ellis Middle)  are requiring masks indoors. For the guidelines that the school district must follow, click here