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Gaston County Schools moves to mask optional Monday as omicron variant looms

The district voted to make masks optional starting the week after Thanksgiving after many parents spoke out, and even protested against the mask mandate.
Credit: Memed ÖZASLAN - stock.adobe.com

GASTON, N.C. — As Gaston County students head back to the classroom on Monday, they won’t need to pack a mask.

This will come just days after the World Health Organization announced a new COVID-19 variant of concern: the omicron variant.

The district voted to make masks optional starting the week after Thanksgiving after many parents spoke out, and even protested against the mask mandate. 

"Choice should always be available to every citizen of the united states and that includes our children," one parent said. "My grandkids do not like the mask on their faces. they're having a hard time learning with them on." 

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But as students can take masks down the new omicron variant has come up.. posing a new threat worldwide.

"Things are moving really really fast,"  Dr. Paulo Verardi said.

Dr. Verardi, who studies Virology and Vaccinology at the University of Connecticut, said the virus is spreading quicker than scientists have had time to study it.

“We don’t have enough data yet to really make claims about it,” he said.

But Verardi said scientists have found that this variant has a large number of mutations.

“There might be increased risk of transmissibility and increased risk of reinfection,” Dr. Verardi explained.

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He said the best prevention is the vaccine and standard covid precautions. 

“All of those things we don’t like; masks, physically distancing, the WHO is essentially reminding us that we need to do those things," he said. 

Though Gaston County Schools won’t be requiring masks, for now, some parents have already said they aren’t taking any chances. 

“She’s going to wear one anyway,” one parent said. “I know it’s a controversial topic and I know it's not easy for some of the kids to wear them but I think if it's for the safety of everyone it’s a good idea."

Contact Lana Harris at lharris@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and on Instagram.