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School districts face big decisions as CDC eases mask mandates for students

The CDC says out of just over 27 million coronavirus cases, 10.4% are in the 5-17-year-old school-age group, with varying outcomes.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The CDC issued guidelines saying schools can reopen at capacity this fall, and vaccinated students and teachers don’t have to wear masks

CDC guidelines are recommendations for local governments. Ultimately, state and school leaders at the local level will have to build a plan based on regional COVID-19 data. 

“I really trust CMS to come up with a system," said elementary school teacher Meredith Fox. "They've really faced a lot of pressure over the last year and [have] been able to do well under that pressure and make decisions based on safety.”

Fox says because she teachers elementary-aged children, she'll most likely wear a mask in the classroom regardless. CDC's guidelines say only students who are vaccinated should not wear a mask, and the vaccine is not available for kids who are under 12. 

According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), 50% of children older than 12 are fully vaccinated in North Carolina.  

Gloria Vaughn, whose 4-year-old daughter will go to preschool this fall, told WCNC Charlotte she's nervous about the coming school year but trusts the state's decision.

“I would prefer, for the safety of kids and teachers, for them to wear masks, but whatever they recommend – I’ll go with it," Vaughn said.

Joy Deak, a grandmother of three, said she wants to see children learning together again. 

"[The] benefits are the social environment, kids playing with one another," said Deak, "Going out to recess, eating together.

Though the CDC has eased precautions, doctors are reminding parents it doesn’t mean kids are in the clear for catching COVID-19.

“We have to prevent the surge of coronavirus cases,” Doctor Frita Fisher told WCNC Charlotte. 

She says her warning comes as parents decide on how best to protect their kids from COVID-19.

“We know that children do get coronavirus,” Dr. Fisher said. 

According to the CDC, out of just over 27 million coronavirus cases,10.4% are in the five to 17-year-old school-age group, with varying outcomes.

“Children have died from coronavirus, children can have long COVID, children can have inflammatory syndromes with devastating consequences,” she explained.

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In South Carolina, there have been 123 reported cases of multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children, and 177 cases in North Carolina.

It’s a potentially fatal condition where vital body parts including the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain can become inflamed.

Doctors still don’t know why some children get it and others don’t, or if kids with certain health conditions are more at risk. Dr. Fisher said it’s a risk that parents should note as restrictions ease.

“My advice to parents is to remember that your number one job is to protect your children,” Fisher said.

The CDC still recommends limiting in-person playtime with other children, keeping kids away from anyone high risk, and that children older than 2 wear a mask if not fully vaccinated. 

Contact Lana Harris at lharris@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and on Instagram. Contact Indira Eskieva at ieskieva@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.