Observer staff report

Following an increase in COVID-19 infections among staff and students in the Hyde County schools, the Hyde County Board of Education on Tuesday enacted a temporary mask mandate.

“Throughout today, we have seen a dramatic increase in positive COVID cases in our staff and students at all schools,” said a notice on the board’s Facebook page. “All current indications are that this will continue through January.”

At their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, the board voted to require face-coverings indoors for everyone — staff, students and visitors — in Hyde County Schools effective immediately for at least the next 30 days. Face coverings are still required on all public transportation including school buses.

The mandate includes all those attending indoor athletic events.  All athletes will be required to wear face-coverings unless they are actively engaged in the event.

“We are committed to keeping our students, staff and visitors as safe as possible, and we appreciate your willingness to help us successfully navigate this spike in cases,” the notice said.

With cases of COVID-19 reaching record highs and hospitalizations increasing, the BOE action follows Gov. Roy Cooper’s call earlier in the day for all North Carolinians to get vaccinated and get a booster as soon as they are eligible to protect themselves from severe illness from the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Early studies show that boosters greatly increase someone’s immune response and provide greater protection against the Omicron variant than no vaccine, Cooper noted during a press conference. The booster is especially important for those over 65 or in other populations at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Testing and wearing a mask — especially a surgical or procedure mask, a KN95, or an N95 — are essential tools in slowing the spread of COVID-19, noted NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody H. Kinsley.

“But the bottom line is that vaccines and boosters are the number one thing you can do to protect your health,” he said.

In a Jan. 3 press release, Hyde County Health Director Luana Gibbs announced the COVID-19 cases to date in the county: 13 new cases, 25 active cases, 14 deaths, 907 recovered for a total of 946 cases since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Gibbs reminded people not to panic over testing shortages or the rise in cases. 

“If you are sick, stay home and avoid exposing others to your sickness,” she said. “If you want a test, call the health department or your doctor for testing.  If we do not have a test available, do NOT go to an emergency department for a test. We will schedule you once we have tests. Having a confirmed result isn’t going to take away the illness, so just practice good common sense and stay home. Testing can come later.” 

However, Gibbs reinforces that should you develop trouble breathing, have persistent pressure in your chest, new confusion, inability to stay awake or discoloration of your skin, lips or nail beds, seek emergency medical care immediately. 

Gibbs stressed that vaccination remains vital. 

“Vaccination does not mean you will not get sick from COVID, it simply means if you get sick the illness will not be as severe, you will likely not require hospitalization, or die from the virus.  Vaccination also reduces the likelihood of new variants developing.

She urged all to get fully vaccinated and boosted.

“If you fear what is in the vaccines, contact your vaccine provider to tell you the ingredients and show you the package insert,” she said.  “You will be given a document that lists those ingredients when you come for your shot as well.  Read for yourself.  Knowledge is power and there are no excuses for not being fully informed.” 

For testing or vaccination, you can call the Hyde County Health Department at 252-926-4467, or the Ocracoke Health Center at 252-928-1511.

Cooper also announced plans to extend Executive Order 224, which aims to curb COVID-19 by requiring vaccines or testing of state employees in cabinet agencies. That Order defined fully vaccinated as having two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and directed the Office of State Human Resources to issue the policy to enforce this requirement. Under the new Order, OSHR will be given the authority to include boosters in the definition of fully vaccinated when appropriate.

To date, North Carolina has administered over 14.8 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 69 percent of the adult population fully vaccinated. About 74 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including 95 percent of North Carolinians 65 and over. About 44 percent of eligible adults have received their booster shot.

Vaccines are available for those ages 5 and older, and boosters are available for those 16 and older.

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized boosters for children 12 through 15 years old, but the CDC must take action before they are available.

On Tuesday, the CDC accepted the FDA recommendation to shorten the time for a Pfizer booster to five months after the second shot. The CDC also recommended a third dose after 28 days for immunocompromised children ages 5 to11.

Information on testing locations, free tests and home tests is available at ncdhhs.gov/gettested. North Carolinians can learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines at myspot.nc.gov (English) or Vacunate.nc.gov (Spanish).

Use NCDHHS’ online tool Find a Vaccine Location to find a nearby vaccination site. The North Carolina Vaccine Help Center at 888-675-4567 can also help you make an appointment. It is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.

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