MARLBORO COUNTY. S.C. (WBTW) — Marlboro County defied Governor Henry McMaster’s ban on mask mandates by requiring masks in all schools starting Aug. 23.

The school board voted 5-2 in favor of the mask mandate just days after the 2021-2022 school year began. Wednesday, the district reported 160 students in quarantine after 12 students tested positive for COVID-19.

“If there is something that we can do that will help save my grandkids along with all other kids then I’m all for it,” said Larry McNeil, board chair for Marlboro County Schools.

McNeil wasn’t at the meeting to vote but says he would’ve voted in favor of the mask mandate.

“We’re not asking them to take anything. Just to put a mask on to be safe,” McNeil said. “And if scientists say that it helps, then I think we should look to that.”

New data from researchers at North Carolina State University predict an upward trend in COVID-19 cases in schools that are not masking.

“What we find is that schools that open without masks and the Delta variant is circulating, we expect that 70%+ of the students who are susceptible will be infected within the first couple of months,” Dr. Julie Swann said.

Swann is a professor at NCSU and one of the key researchers on the study. The results show combining masks and weekly testing could reduce new infections between 40% to 70%.

With the Delta variant being twice as contagious, Swann said masking is the best way to protect kids who aren’t able to get vaccinated.

“They will get touched at some point and that risk is much greater with schools open without masks,” Swann said.

Local school leaders are now risking it all for student’s safety.

“There’s always concerns of whether you can lose something, but I think losing a life would be more important to me,” McNeil said.

Swann expects communities that are not requiring mask mandates in schools to start seeing a rise in COVID-19 infections within four to six weeks after school begins.