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“I’m just waiting for the phone call that my son’s been exposed”: Pender County Schools sees major spike in COVID cases and exposures

Pender County struggles with high COVID-19 case numbers, schools keep masks optional
Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 6:24 PM EST
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PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) -The Pender County Board of Education voted last Tuesday to keep masks optional in schools.

Some parents were in favor of the decision, others were not happy.

For Samantha Worrell, she was excited for her fifth grade son to be back in-person for the semester after being virtual to stay safe last year. She said he got vaccinated and she felt more comfortable with sending him back in-person — until Omicron hit. Now, she’s regretting that decision.

“So many parents fight against the mask out here and we knew it would cause major quarantines [and] infections, not just of students. A lot of people like to say, ‘oh it doesn’t impact the kids that much,’ but teachers are sick,” Worrell said. “Our county is just so stubborn that they won’t admit we were wrong and we need to go back to masks so we can keep kids and our staff in school.”

As of Friday, the district had more than 600 staff members and students out due to positive cases or exposures. To view the latest data, click here.

The drastic increase didn’t sit well with Worrell and many other parents. Worrell said her son was virtual last semester just to be safe, and once he got vaccinated she was comfortable sending him back to in-person instruction, but quickly regretted that decision once the school year started and COVID was spreading quickly.

“Frankly I’m pissed off, I’m really mad; it’s selfishness, it’s just pure selfishness and our vaccination rates are not good enough to be sending children into school with no masks on, no protections, because there’s no social distancing,” Worrell said.

On the flipside, Worrell was happy to hear that her son’s class is having lunch in the classroom, and his teacher is making sure kids wash their hands before they eat, but she knows that those safety measures simply aren’t enough to slow the spread of the virus.

“There are teachers and staff here who are immunocompromised; they could have health issues, and even if they had their vaccine they could still get really, really sick — and the fact is masks help protect. It’s a layer of protection and why anybody doesn’t want to keep their children and their children’s teachers and the people who run their school safe, it’s just beyond me, it really is,” Worrell said. “Their choices can impact other people in our community as a whole. We are never gonna get through this until we all just do what we’re supposed to do. It’s just embarrassing at this point.”

After reaching out to Pender County Schools, the following statement was released Wednesday evening:

“We did see an increase in our numbers as our latest data was pulled from a full week of students being back in class after the winter break when so many had traveled. Students were not in class the week prior which reflected in lower numbers.

“Masks in schools has and continues to be a sensitive topic with many on both sides of the aisle. Pender County Schools provides an opportunity for public comment during our Board of Education meetings on the second Tuesday of each month. Members of the community are welcome to sign up and speak to the Board in-person or use the call-in option to leave a voicemail message which will be played for all to hear during the meeting.”

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