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To mask or not to mask

New group, healthcare leaders, governor urge school board to change their minds 

POLK COUNTY—The Polk County School Board is now hearing from both sides of the aisle after making a decision last week to make masks optional when school starts back on Aug. 23. 

A new group started this week on social media with a petition that as of 9 a.m. Friday had 340 signatures asking the school board to reverse its decision. 

There’s another social media group urging the school board to leave masks optional. 

Health care leaders, including local doctors and the county health director also sent the school board a letter urging them to require masks. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper sent a letter to county board of education chairs urging them to reverse decisions, as other counties have, to make masks mandatory. 

The social media page and petition began this week by Kelly Hanlon. 

Hanlon said concern and fear are two very different words. 

Concern is action oriented and focused on rational decision making rather than stressful and often paralyzing, illogical decision making,” Hanlon said. “I started this group to connect others who are equally CONCERNED with public health issues that involve Polk Schools. The recent mask-optional decision that was made at the August 2 BOE meeting was of grave concern to many as it bucked the recommendations of the AAP, the CDC and local Health Department officials. I, along with our 250+ members, were disappointed and, frankly, confused, as Polk Schools did a fantastic job last year in keeping kids safe. With the encroaching Delta variant that’s on the rise, why change the approach now? Not to mention, the mask optional decision will lead to increased quarantine time and the ensuing ripple effect of income loss and daycare challenges. Collectively, we are saddened that the mask issue has become political fodder. As a group, we will continue to rise above this and use all reasonable avenues to rally local officials to use ALL recommended measures in an effort to keep children’s safety paramount.”

The page has quickly received a following, with 250 members as of Friday morning. 

Local doctors and Polk County Health and Human Service Agency Director Joshua Kennedy sent the school board a letter on Thursday and Cooper also sent a letter on Thursday. 

The letter from healthcare providers said they urge you to ensure the safety and quality education of our children by requiring mandatory masking in Polk County public schools. 

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been on the front lines trying to promote and protect the health of Polk County residents, and today is no different,” states the letter. 

The letter is signed by Dr. Amy Marietta, MD MPH; Dr. Sandra McCormack, MD; Dr. Jeffrey Viar, DO; Dr. John Kornmayer, DO and Kennedy. 

The social media site where the petition can be found is located on Facebook at Polk County Citizens for Safer Classrooms. Another site with people in favor of optional masks can be found on Facebook at Keeping Polk County Unmasked. 

As of press time, school board officials were not available to make a comment.