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CMS watches COVID-19 data to see when ending the mask mandate might be safe

 Students and families masked up for a recent Cabarrus County Schools college fair. The district's mask mandate ends Tuesday.
Students and families masked up for a recent Cabarrus County Schools college fair. The district's mask mandate ends Tuesday.

Superintendent Earnest Winston will outline metrics Tuesday that could be used to decide when it's safe for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to drop its mask mandate.

His report to the school board comes on the same day that neighboring Cabarrus County Schools ends its mandate.

North Carolina leaves it up to school boards to decide whether masks are required inside schools, though it’s strongly recommended by state health officials. State law requires boards to vote on mask policies each month.

In the Charlotte area, the Union and Lincoln county school boards had earlier voted to allow staff and students to go maskless indoors. The Cabarrus board approved a set of metrics based on school quarantines and COVID-19 case counts, along with county cases and positivity rate, that were used to trigger the end of the mandate.

CMS is among the majority of North Carolina districts still requiring masks. An advance copy of Winston's report indicates he'll look at these factors:

  • Quarantines and transitions to remote learning in CMS and their connection to mask use. If improper mask use is driving up absences from classrooms, that could be a sign that continuing the mandate is helpful, the report says.

The report says almost 40% of this month's quarantines are connected to prekindergarten or special education classes, where students may not be able to wear masks.

  • If Mecklenburg County drops below 10 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and/or a 5% positivity rate, that could signal it's time to relax the mandate.

As of Friday, the seven-day case rate was 117.9 per 100,000 and the positivity rate was 7.3%.

  • When at least 50% of school-aged children in Mecklenburg County are vaccinated, that would be a factor pointing toward less need for masks.

As of last week, 57% of the county's 12- to 17-year-olds had at least one dose, but younger children are not yet eligible.

  • An increase in school clusters could signal a need to keep the mandate in place.

Health officials label COVID-19 cases a cluster when five or more cases are linked to school spread. As of last week, CMS had active clusters at five of 180 schools.

The CMS board will not vote on masks or the metrics Tuesday. The next mask vote will be Nov. 9.

Copyright 2021 WFAE

Ann Doss Helms covers education for WFAE. She was a reporter for The Charlotte Observer for 32 years, including 16 years on the education beat. She has repeatedly won first place in education reporting from the North Carolina Press Association and won the 2015 Associated Press Senator Sam Open Government Award for reporting on charter school salaries.