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Hancock schools to make masks optional on Feb. 22

Hancock County Schools will be making masks optional, beginning Feb. 22, but will implement a “test to stay” program as part of the transition. Explaining the tests, Monday, were Dr. Natasha Smith of Roxby Labs, left, and Kathy Dray, LPN coordinator of Hancock County Schools. School board President Danny Kaser also is pictured. (Photo by Craig Howell)

NEW CUMBERLAND — Students in Hancock County Schools will have the option to wear face coverings beginning Feb. 22, following action taken by the county board of education Monday night.

Superintendent Dawn Petrovich made the recommendation during the board’s regular meeting, citing lower numbers of COVID-19 in the county school system.

“The positive cases have decreased,” Petrovich said, noting there have been some days with no cases reported in the schools.

According to the COVID Dashboard on the school system’s website, there were seven positive cases on Feb. 7, six cases on Feb. 8, one case on Feb. 9, with no new cases reported the rest of the week. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources county alert map shows Hancock County as green, with a 23.31 infection rate and a 3.63 percent positivity as of Sunday. The DHHR reported 60 active COVID cases in Hancock County on Monday.

“Hancock County has been green on the DHHR map for at least the last eight to 10 days,” Petrovich noted.

As part of the transition to remove the full mask requirement in schools, and move to optional masking, the schools will implement a “test to stay” program, which was discussed by Kathy Dray, LPN coordinator for the schools.

“Our main goal is to keep the kids safe, and the staff safe, and keep schools open,” Dray said, who noted previous steps were the recommendations from the state Department of Education, the county Health Department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Working with Roxby Labs, the schools will be providing take-home COVID tests for students and staff who have come in contact with someone with COVID.

“It puts more control in the parents’ hands,” explained Dr. Natasha Smith, chief scientific officer of Roxby Labs. “We want to prioritize kids staying in class.”

Dray noted the tests were distributed to the schools on Thursday to provide time for instruction on their use. Some tests also were made available for those in attendance at Monday’s school board meeting.

“Once we pull the masks off, we have to do something,” Dray said, noting similar measures have been under way in Ohio.

Petrovich said she has been surveying all counties in West Virginia, and 12 have optional mask regulations in place, with others expected to make similar decisions in the coming weeks.

Board President Danny Kaser offered his thanks to Dray, the school nurses, Hancock County Health Department and others for their work over the last two years.

“I’m not sure where we would be without your leadership,” he said.

The school system previously implemented a variety of safety measures within the schools, including the purchase of temperature scanners, sanitizing stations, electro-static sprayers and other cleaners, water fill stations and more.

Prior to the decision, the board heard from two residents, Holly Fish and Tanya Dillon, who requested the mask requirement be lifted.

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