Quarantine numbers cut in half since mask mandate began in county schools. Some still oppose.

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
Ronald Greer, a physician in Ravenswood, addressed the board Thursday suggesting it take more measures to protect students and staff from COVID-19.

RIPLEY – Quarantines across Jackson County Schools have decreased significantly since the county Board of Education implemented its mask mandate, Superintendent Blaine Hess announced Thursday.

Five days prior to the mask mandate, 359 students were quarantined. Five days into the mask requirement quarantines dropped to 176, Hess said. 

But that didn't stop a handful of people from addressing the board Thursday asking that it remove the face covering requirement. Before the public forum began, Jim Frazier, the board's president, started the meeting by outlining forum rules. 

"Boards of Education do not have to allow any public speakers," Frazier said while reading from the West Virginia Open Meetings Act

The majority of speakers — five out of eight  echoed the same thoughts on the mask mandate: disapproval. Statements like "masks don't work" and "they restrict oxygen" were heard at the meeting. Many people ended their five-minute speeches to the board by asking members to reconsider the mask policy set in place at the Sept. 2 meeting. 

These statements have been disproven:

  • Mayo Clinic debunked the oxygen argument by citing that health care workers have worn masks for long periods of time with no "adverse health reactions." 

After the meeting, Ronald Greer, a physician in Ravenswood, said he's had several patients who argued that masks lowered oxygen levels. He put a pulse oximeter on their finger and told them to walk around the building with their mask on. 

"They would see their oxygen's not lowering," Greer said. "No mask stops elemental particles from going in and out oxygen and carbon dioxide are still moving." 

  • Several health care entities like the Centers for Disease Control, Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins Medicine have released statements suggesting the use of masks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. According to a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America study, the group found that  "Public mask wearing is most effective at reducing spread of the virus when compliance is high."

As of Sept. 15, Jackson County had a positivity rate of 12.05% and an infection rate of 90.49. Only 47% of Jackson County residents are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Jimmy Templin, a parent in Jackson County who spoke in opposition to masks, urged the board to use a portion of its federal funding to invest in new ventilation systems. The CDC has reported that "ventilation system upgrades or improvements can increase the delivery of clean air and dilute potential contaminants."

Jackson County Schools are expected to install new HVAC systems in Cottageville Elementary and Ripley Middle School over the summer of 2022. 

All of the speakers during the public comment period thanked the board for the time to speak. After the public comment period, the board didn't speak about altering the mask mandate. 

Board member Bea Isner thanked everyone who spoke and stood by the board's decision at its previous meeting to require masks to keep school from going online. 

Frazier ended the meeting by saying thoughts about student and staff health has kept him awake at night since the pandemic began. 

"It's definitely weighed on me and it will continue to weigh on me," Frazier said. "We don't want you to think we are taking this lightly."

More:Students and staff required to mask up again regardless of vaccination status

More:Jackson General Hospital braces for the worst as COVID cases continue to spike

— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.