By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on August 28, 2021
On Sept. 1, the Dare County Board of Education will convene in a special meeting to discuss its decision earlier this month to approve optional masking in school rather than universal masking. On Aug. 27, the neighboring Currituck County Board of Education voted unanimously to reverse its earlier decision and instead require masks in schools.
In recent days, there has been a flurry of emails between local health officials and members of the Dare Board of Education and Dare County Schools officials. This one, released through a records request, is from Outer Banks Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Daniel Dwyer.
Dear Fellow Community Leaders,
As Chief of Staff for close to 350 providers through The Outer Banks Hospital, I write to request that you urgently mandate masking for Dare County students until this Delta variant surge is no longer a threat.
The Delta variant has proved to be more transmissible and harmful to those it infects, including children. It is imperative we do all we can to protect our students, many of whom are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Masks are a simple and effective measure that can make schools a safer place for students to learn. This does not have to be an academic year decision. Instead, I’m urging you to make a strategic decision to help get this immediate threat under control now.
Last year at this time, there were 21 cases of COVID-19 in Dare County. Today there are over 250 with a variant so contagious that each positive individual likely spreads the virus to six other people. In just the first week of the school year, we’ve witnessed children testing positive for COVID-19 and many being quarantined. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Vidant Medical Center is full and Children’s Hospital of The Kings Daughters is currently stacking patients. All beds are occupied at The Outer Banks Hospital and we’re having an increasingly difficult time transferring patients who require a higher level of care because hospitals throughout the region are also operating at-capacity. Some patients are waiting several days in the Emergency Department for care.
Staffing shortages have forced us to reduce hours at both Outer Banks Urgent Care facilities in Kitty Hawk and Nags Head effective this Saturday, Aug. 28 so that we can continue serving the community while still caring for our frontline teams.
I don’t have to tell you that these challenges have a direct effect on the health outcomes of patients. Hospitalizations of those suffering from COVID-19 means there are fewer beds and resources for our community members experiencing other serious health challenges.
Our children look to us to keep them safe. Many of them hold a special place in my heart because I delivered them at our hospital. My hope for each of them then and now is that they remain safe and have every opportunity to experience an excellent education.
As a physician, husband, father, and community member, I am telling you that we are in a crisis. We must make difficult decisions now in order to save lives. Following CDC recommendations for masking in schools will go a long way toward keeping students in school, and teachers and parents at work. If we do not do so, our local healthcare workforce and services will be adversely impacted as students who are not masked will require testing, quarantine and possibly hospitalization.
I look forward to partnering with you to keep our students in the classroom and local access to healthcare strong for everyone who needs it.
Daniel Dwyer, MD
Chief of Staff
The Outer Banks Hospital