Martin County Schools teachers, staff and students will continue wearing masks at school — at least until the next board meeting in December.

On Nov. 1, the school board voted to keep the mask requirement in place at their regular meeting.

Wes Gray, Health Director of Martin-Tyrrell-Washington (MTW) Health Department, told board members that positive cases of COVID-19 are continuing to drop in the county, but Martin County remains higher than the state average of five percent.

“Martin County over the last few weeks has been at 6.2 percent. We would like to get that number down. I really anticipate in a week or so, to be at 5 percent,” he added.

He showed the board a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) weekly map that highlights high-risk counties. He said the map acts as a matrix to help school boards navigate mask requirements.

“They do this for every county in the country,” he said. It is based on a seven-day rolling average of positive COVID cases.

“Right now, most counties in North Carolina [including Martin] are in that high-risk category,” he said. Until Martin County can move out of the high-risk category, he recommends masking.

To move into the next, lower risk category, Martin County would need to only have 22 cases over 7 days.

“That is three cases, or below, a day,” he said.

Only 48 percent of Martin County’s population has received the full course of vaccine. Gray said the goal is to have about 80 percent of the population fully vaccinated.

“We are not going to get there anytime soon with the numbers we are seeing now,” he said. But, with vaccines having been approved for children, he does expect the number of vaccinated to rise.

Board member Gail Cargile recommended that MCS keep the mask requirement in place for another month.

“I make the motion because Wes Gray, said we are above 5 percent, and we are [high risk] on the CDC map. We have come too far to go backwards now. Maybe after another month a lot of children will have been vaccinated,” she said.

“I think that would be the most appropriate time [to lift the requirement],” she added. “We already have had a lot teachers that have been out and that is causing problems…so we can’t go backwards. I recommend that we keep the masks on.”

Vice Chair Rene Purvis seconded the motion. The motion passed with one board member, Van Heath, opposed

Purvis asked Superintendent David Fonseca if masks were required at the monthly board meetings.

“There were people in attendance in tonight’s meeting that did not have a mask on,” she said. “What is the requirement that we operate under in this room?

“The reason I am asking is that I was texted by teachers who had on masks [tonight] and they noticed some people that attended tonight’s meeting were not wearing masks. I just want clarification,” she added.

Dr. Fonseca said during school hours, masks are required. At special events, such as a board meeting, masks are recommended, he added.

Public Information Officer Sarah Stalls then said the board meetings are advertised as mask required, because students are in attendance.

Contact Jim Green at jgreen@ncweeklies.com.