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Masks optional when Preston County returns to school

KINGWOOD — Masks will be optional for students and staff alike in all 10 of Preston County’s schools when they return from Thanksgiving break Nov. 29. 

Preston County Schools made the announcement on its website Friday, when it released the weekly COVID-19 numbers for each school. 

The week of Nov. 29 includes Dec. 1, which is when the county’s Board of Education voted to begin issuing mask mandates weekly based on the number of positive COVID cases and people in quarantine at each individual school.

The threshold for a mask mandate at a given school is a 2% positive rate or 7% quarantine rate. Each Friday, the school system posts its COVID numbers, broken down by school, on its website. The COVID numbers chart also shows which schools will have a mask mandate the following week.

Superintendent Stephen Wotring has been tracking the numbers in preparation for the change and at the most recent BOE meeting told the board that only one school — Fellowsville, with seven positive cases and a threshold of two based on 87 students or 100 total population including staff — would have had a mask mandate during the past three weeks. 

The percentage thresholds are calculated by combining the number of students and staff at each school to find what the daily maximum attendance rate should be, Wotring said. 

Wotring said there could be an increase in quarantine numbers and additional contract tracing will need to be done when students are unmasked in their classes instead of just at lunch.

“What would have probably happened to a certain extent if we were not wearing the masks during this time our quarantine numbers would have been higher, just because most of our quarantine numbers come from lunch because that’s technically where everybody is unmasked while they’re eating,” he said.

The switch to mask mandates by individual schools is the final phase of the COVID protocols that came out of discussions in September with parents who are against mask mandates. 

In October, masks were mandated in all schools. In November, the school system as a whole based its weekly masking protocol on the status of the state COVID map — five consecutive days of gold or below results in optional mask wearing and three consecutive days of red results in a return to a mask mandate. 

Board Vice-President Pam Feathers asked how long they should follow the school-by-school system, noting the board had not yet discussed that.

Wotring said, in his opinion, it’s until it causes a problem.

“It seems, based on our numbers, these thresholds seem to not be out of whack with what’s happening in the world. So I think we just let it ride for now,” he said. “If we see something really going amuck with this, then we can come back and say, ‘What do, we need to do.’ ”

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