Schools will decide on masks for fall semester

By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • The Hoke County Board of Education will meet Thursday to decide whether children attending Hoke County Schools will be required to wear masks in the classroom this fall.

The board is expected to also discuss other COVID-19 safety measures for the upcoming semester. Most Hoke students will start back to class August 23, and based on current plans are expected to return to in-person instruction five days a week.

Last school year when students first returned to classrooms for in-person learning, Gov. Roy Cooper issued a mandate ordering all children to wear masks. Last week the governor announced he will leave the decision about masks up to local school systems for the fall semester.

“The most important work our state will do next month is getting all our school children back into the classrooms safely for in-person learning,” Cooper said in a statement. “That’s the best way for them to learn, and we want their school days to be as close to normal as possible, especially after a year of disruption.”

The state updated its StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit to align with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics guidance. The toolkit “urges that everything possible be done to keep students in schools and emphasizes continued masking.” For students and teachers in grades 9-12, the guidance recommends anyone unvaccinated wear a mask indoors.

The Hoke County Board of Education will hold the special called meeting Thursday, July 29 at 6:30 p.m. in the Digital Learning Center located at 319 North Bethel Road. The meeting will also be live-streamed and can be watched during or after at the Hoke County Schools YouTube channel.

The meeting is for “the purpose of discussing updated COVID-19 protocols for the return to school and to take action on personnel,” according to the meeting notice.

The school system had already created a plan for the 2021-2022 school year, available to view on its website, but the Board of Education members could decide to make changes to it during the meeting Thursday.

The original plan called for students as well as staff and other adults to wear masks indoors, and recommended but did not require students to wear masks outdoors if they can’t maintain six feet of physical distancing. The plan also anticipated maximizing physical distancing in classrooms to the greatest extent possible, and keeping six feet of spacing for indoor areas where students and staff may congregate, such as hallways and cafeterias.

For more information on the school system and links to its YouTube channel and back-to-school plans, visit https://www.hcs.k12.nc.us.

COVID-19 cases going up

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Hoke County continues going up, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now has the county back in the red zone for high community transmission of the virus.

After falling to a low of only 10 new cases in a week, the number of new COVID-19 cases has been on an upswing in Hoke and across other parts of North Carolina, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).

Hoke has seen 172 new, confirmed cases of the virus in the past 14 days, including 110 new cases in the last seven days alone. That’s about 31 cases per 10,000 residents over the past two weeks. The county has seen over 5,120 confirmed cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 infections have been going up across the state. As of Tuesday, more than 1,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in North Carolina. A month ago, that number was closer to 300.

Where to get vaccinated

The Hoke County Health Department is accepting walk-ins from 9 a.m.-noon and 1 p.m.-4 p.m. during the week. The department is offering the Moderna vaccine. For more information, go to www.readyhoke.org.

Cape Fear Valley Health is offering the Pfizer vaccine for people age 12 and up. For more details, visit www.capefearvalley.com/COVID19. The Cape Fear Valley Hoke Pharmacy is located at 300 Medical Pavilion Drive, Suite 100, in Hoke County.

Dr. Karen Smith’s medical practice in Raeford is offering the COVID-19 vaccine. The office is located at 929 West Prospect Avenue. Call (910) 904-1695.

The Walmart Pharmacy on Fayetteville Road in Raeford is offering the COVID-19 vaccine. For availability, go to Walmart.com/covidvaccine.

FirstHealth of the Carolinas has several primary care providers offering the vaccine to anyone age 18 and older. A parent or guardian can schedule an appointment for youth age 12 and up to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Call (910) 715-SHOT (7468). For more information, visit www.firsthealth.org/shot.

The state also has information about where to get the vaccine at http://yourspotyourshot.nc.gov, or call the COVID-19 line at 1-877-490-6642.

CORRECTION: This story was updated with the correct location of the meeting.

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