RALEIGH, NC – North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services officials have announced individual contact tracing and exclusion from school for asymptomatic people after exposure is no longer recommended statewide in K-12 schools.
“I think it’s been a while to come,” said Brooke Weiss, president of the Mecklenburg chapter of Moms for Liberty. “But I’m very happy. And I think that means healthy kids won’t have to miss school anymore.
State health officials updated the StrongSchoolsNC public health toolkit Feb. 10 to focus on strategies that are effective at this stage of the pandemic, such as vaccines, boosters, testing, and wearing masks.
Similar changes have been made to the ChildCareStrongNC Public Health Toolkit.
The toolkit updates go into effect on February 21.
Students and staff do not have to stay home after being exposed to COVID-19 unless they are sick or test positive.
“We are committed to ensuring that North Carolinians have the guidance and information needed to balance their risk through each stage of the pandemic and learn to live with COVID-19,” said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley, in a press release. “Keeping children in class remains a top priority. As we have done throughout the pandemic, we are evaluating which tools are most effective in protecting students and staff. It’s the right approach for this stage of the pandemic and it includes flexibility for schools and local health departments to use the data to make informed decisions and respond to local conditions.
The NCDHHS said contact tracing has become less effective in the community due to:
- Emergence of variants with shorter incubation periods and rapid transmission.
- Infected people are most contagious before symptoms appear and during the first days of illness.
- A higher number of asymptomatic and less severe cases due, in part, to greater immunity to vaccination and previous infections.
- Many infections are never identified by public health agencies because people with asymptomatic or mild cases may not be tested and because of the increasing use of “over-the-counter” home testing.
- The spread of the virus and low case and contact identification rates limit the effectiveness of contact tracing to reduce transmission.
“With so many vaccinations. With so many asymptomatic cases, contact tracing is not very effective,” said Michael Thompson, associate chair of public health sciences, UNC Charlotte. “And those resources are best deployed in trying to convince more people to get vaccinated.”
Notification of potential exposure is recommended in schools, health officials said.
Local schools and health departments can continue contact tracing.
State health officials still recommend universal masking in areas with high transmission.
“It’s a good idea for many people to continue wearing masks, even if a mask mandate is removed to continue thinking about social distancing, where possible,” Thompson said.
For more information, visit the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit.
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