Until recently, Warren County hasn’t been the focal point of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Tri-County. The virus was slower to arrive there initially, and its death toll has been lower in absolute terms than it has been in larger Vance and Granville counties.
But with vaccination rates lagging, at least in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s reckoning, and the delta variant of the virus on the loose, Warren County Schools officials found themselves this month facing a dilemma.
A few dozen children have tested positive for the virus, but many more have had to quarantine because of potential exposures. Staffing shortages forced them to switch Warren County High School and Vaughan Elementary School back to remote learning for a time early this month.
The situation quickly got to the point where the Warren school board, acting at Interim Superintendent Keith Sutton’s recommendation, voted to require staff and student athletes to get vaccinated against the virus.
Sutton — who’s also the chairman of the Wake County school board — warned the board before its Sept. 8 that the trends school officials were seeing posed a risk to the rest of the school year.
Given the experience of the 2020-21 school year, and the obvious failures of remote learning, it’s manifest that “we can ill afford to have another long period where schools are closed and students are in virtual learning,” he said.
So now, if they haven’t been immunized already, employees and athletes have until Oct. 9 to get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and Nov. 8 to get the second, presuming they opt for the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna sequence instead of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson product.
We shall see how many of them comply, and how many claim medical or religious objections that will require employees to submit to once-a-week testing and athletes to submit to twice-a-week testing.
The Warren board’s willingness to issue a vaccine mandate came even as the Granville County school board was deferring a similar recommendation until next month, on the grounds of wanting to see more information and data.
School officials throughout the region are getting much of their information and advice from the same sources, namely their local health departments, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and finally the ABC Science Collaborative, the partnership the Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill medical schools formed last year to help them navigate the pandemic.
But data only takes you so far, and we think the Warren board’s experience kicked in and prompted members to agree with Sutton that students can ill afford another year of chaos.
We are probably never going to be entirely rid of COVID-19, unfortunately, but school systems have to find ways to operate that offer parents and students stability and predictability.
Ignoring infection-control advice — like the school board in the Charlotte area’s Union County did, provoking ire from DHHS — is unlikely to supply that.
The coronavirus operates only in accordance with the laws of physics and chemistry, which cannot be negotiated with. It doesn’t care about the laws of man, or about our cultural and political debates. Cross it, and it will cross you.
And we have a vast storehouse of knowledge, accumulated over the past century, that shows vaccines are both safe and effective disease-control measures.
Most of us — enough to make a difference, anyway — from our youth have been immunized against polio, measles, diphtheria and a host of other illnesses that plagued our parents and grandparents. Those ailments are a faint memory, and in getting to grips with them as quickly as science allowed, schools and businesses were able to go about their business free of fear. That’s what we all aspire to now.