ASHE COUNTY — As the weather begins to cool and children find themselves back in the classroom, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge as Ashe sees 77 active cases and the Ashe County Board of Education places a mask mandate in all schools across the county.

As of Aug. 16, AppHealthCare reported that there are 77 active cases and 34 individuals being monitored. Deaths have risen to 49 and the total cumulative case count is now 2,528. In Alleghany, there are 16 active cases and seven being monitored. In Watauga, there are 66 active and 85 being monitored. Death rates vary from the counties with Alleghany only having five and Watauga having 32.

Ashe continues to represent a high level of community transmission and are in the “red.”

AppHealth care has said that beginning Aug. 16, it will be expanding COVID-19 testing by drive-thru Monday to Friday 8:30-10 a.m. at each of their clinic locations. No appointment is needed.

Vaccines are continuing to roll out and Ashe has a rate of 46 percent of the population who are fully or partially vaccinated. 54 percent is still unvaccinated and AppHealthCare is continuing to strive to their goal which is 70 percent.

The organization also offers COVID-19 vaccines by walk-in or appointment Monday through Friday. Walk in hours are 1 — 4 p.m. If you choose to walk-in, you may have to wait. In order to lessen your wait time, schedule an appointment by calling (828) 795-1970.

“$100 Visa Gift Cards are available from Aug. 4 through Aug. 31 to all who are 18-plus getting their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and $25 Visa Gift Cards are available for those who drive someone to get their first dose of vaccine,” said AppHealthCare in their recent situation update. “Get vaccinated to protect yourself against COVID-19 and variants. With the Delta variant, this is more urgent than ever. The highest spread of cases and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates. The vaccines are working like they should. They are helping prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death. Vaccinated individuals represent a very small amount of transmission occurring around the country. Most vaccinated people are protected from the virus. If you get vaccinated, your risk of infection is about 3.5 times lower, your risk of getting ill from COVID is over 8 times lower, and your risk of hospitalization or death is about 25 times lower.”

The CDC has recently stated that COVID-19 vaccinations are safe and strongly encouraged for people who are pregnant and breastfeeding.

“COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or might become pregnant in the future. Pregnant and recently pregnant people are more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19 compared with non-pregnant people. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can protect you from severe illness from COVID-19. Clinicians have seen the number of pregnant people infected with COVID-19 rise in the past several weeks. The increased circulation of the highly contagious Delta variant, the low vaccine uptake among pregnant people, and the increased risk of severe illness and pregnancy complications related to COVID-19 infection among pregnant people make vaccination for this population more urgent than ever,” said AppHealthCare regarding the new CDC Data.

In response to the rise in cases, the Board of Education reversed their previous decision on optional masks to make masks required for all Ashe County Schools.

On Aug. 13, the Ashe County Board of Education called an emergency meeting to discuss current quarantine procedures, which concluded with the passing of a mask mandate for Ashe County students and staff.

The meeting was scheduled for Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. and was held at the Annex for Ashe County Schools. Present at the meeting were Kim Simmons, Polly Jones, Vice Chair Dianne Eldereth, Chair Josh Roten and Keith McClure who was not physically present but attended the meeting virtually. Superintended Dr. Eisa Cox and Finance Officer Amanda Coldiron were also present.

Chairman Roten called together the meeting to discuss the handling of student and school staff quarantines and quarantine procedures which were put forth by the Central Office for Ashe County Schools. The board also discussed the noticeable uptick in COVID-19 cases involving both school staff and students just days prior to the county’s scheduled back to school date on Monday, Aug. 16.

During the meeting it was noted that there were 17 positive COVID-19 cases throughout the Ashe County student body and 56 students in quarantine, as well as seven positive cases in school staff members with one staff member in quarantine. Many of the students currently in quarantine would miss their first week of school.

The board took several different aspects of the issue into consideration over the course of the nearly two-and-a-half hour discussion, which covered everything from quarantine protocols, cafeteria seating and school athletics, to the delivery of Chrome books for students working from home due to quarantine status.

Around 8:52 p.m., McClure made a motion to make mask mandatory for all Ashe County students, which was seconded by Jones and then carried in a three to two vote. Board members who voted in favor of the mask mandate were McClure, Jones and Eldreth. Those opposed to new mask rule were Roten and Simmons. The ruling will require Ashe County students to wear a mask while indoors. The decision on mask will be revisited on a monthly basis, with the mandate being dependent on current COVID-19 trends.

Following the vote on mask a second motion was made by Simmons to follow the most lenient quarantine protocols through the CDC, which was seconded by McClure and passed unanimously through by the board. These protocols will now be changed due to the new mask mandate.

Regarding the mask, a third motion was made by Simmons that stated that adults not in the presence of children were not required to wear mask. This refers to teachers or staff that may be working amongst other adults or alone in their classrooms or workspaces. Likewise this motion was seconded by McClure and passed unanimously by the board.

For information about the Ashe County Board of Education and the upcoming school year visit www.asheschools.org/Page/9.

As of about noon on Aug. 16, the NCDHHS reported that North Carolina has seen a total of 1,122,412 COVID-19 cases. Currently, there are 2,651 individuals across the state who are hospitalized.

The World Heath Organization (WHO) reported on Aug. 16 that there have been 207,173,086 confirmed cases, including 4,361,996 deaths. WHO also reported that a total of 4,452,111,864 vaccines have been administered.

To learn more about the COVID-19 pandemic and to schedule a test or vaccine, visit apphealthcare.com.

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