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As schools debate mask mandates, Mecklenburg County's health director says COVID-19 'here to stay'

Health Director Gibbie Harris said her department is working closely with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools on COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming school year.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With less than three weeks before Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools reopen for students, the Mecklenburg County Health Department is helping the district prepare for the rapid spread of the COVID-19 delta variant

"They're getting there," said Health Director Gibbie Harris. "They're making significant strides and efforts."

The district recently announced that face masks would be mandatory for students. Harris said CMS will also rely on surveillance testing to help detect COVID-19 as a way to prevent outbreaks and subsequent quarantines. Currently, children under the age of 12 aren't eligible for the vaccine. 

"It's gonna be tough. When you bring that many people back together, in that sort of environment, we are gonna see some cases. We expect that," Harris said. 

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When pressed about an "acceptable" level of cases, Harris replied, "there is no acceptable level of cases."

Several school districts already in session have reported COVID-19 outbreaks. After just four days of class and dozens of quarantined students, Mooresville Graded School District reversed course and required masks. It joins CMS, Anson County, Richmond County and Stanly County in that mandate.

RELATED: Schools in Charlotte-area district make masks adjustments for upcoming school year for students, staff

Many other districts in the greater Charlotte area are making masks optional. Harris said schools need to be planning for the long-term battle with COVID-19. 

"One thing we need to recognize, and no one wants to hear this: COVID is here to stay for a while," she said.

RELATED: 'If it were a couple weeks later, he could have been spreading it at school' | Union Co. family gets COVID-19, urges masks in schools

Contact Ben Thompson at bthompson@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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