Union County Schools End Contact Tracing, Quarantine Protocols

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The meeting comes days after the school district was named by Governor Cooper as one of five remaining school districts not requiring masks.

UNION COUNTY, NC – The Union County Board of Education voted 8-1 Monday morning to immediately end staff responsibility for contact tracing and quarantine operations for all asymptomatic and non-asymptomatic students and staff positive.

According to the school district, students and staff who are not on the COVID-19 positive list and who are not showing symptoms can return to school immediately.

They asked school staff to stop contact tracing efforts.

The singular opposite vote came from Reverend John J. Kirkpatrick, IV.

“We will continue to operate in accordance with the law. Our staff will continue to deal with positive and suspected positive cases,” Board member Gary Sides said at the meeting.

Members of the Education Council said they did not have the legal authority to issue quarantines. Thousands of students have already been sent home after being exposed this school year.

According to the State’s Strongest Schools Toolkit, if a student is exposed to someone who tests positive but both are in hiding at that time, no quarantine is necessary.

Since the district is one of the few to remain in North Carolina without a mask warrant, students and staff suspected of having come into contact with COVID-19 patients were in home quarantine. As of September 10, there were 1,022 positive cases of COVID-19 in the district.

The move on Monday would allow people who have no symptoms and have not tested positive to return immediately without meeting the remainder of the state’s recommended quarantine period.

In an interview with WCNC Charlotte on Friday, Union County Director of Public Health Dennis Joyner said he had advised the school board to follow the state’s recommendations.

RELATED: In Letter to Board of Education, Union County Director of Health Promotes State Recommendations on Masks and Vaccines

“One of the things that is a key part of the toolkit is to require indoor masking for schools,” Joyner said. “I clearly support this.”

In the absence of masks, Joyner encouraged full commitment to a 14-day quarantine period. With the masks, the state says a period of quarantine is not necessary.

On Monday afternoon, Union County Public Health provided the following statement to WCNC Charlotte regarding the Education Council’s decision:

“In answer to your question, under NC law, the primary responsibility for contact tracing lies with public health. However, by law, some parties are required to provide public health with necessary and relevant information to help public health fight communicable diseases. In addition, the Contact Tracing Directorate described the Strong Schools Toolkit, developed by the NCDHHS and adopted for use in all public schools in North Carolina by the NCDPI, notes that the responsibility for contact tracing is a shared responsibility in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “

A parent at Union County Public School who wanted to remain anonymous said he felt the council had abandoned his community.

“Do the right thing and protect our children, our teachers and our staff,” they said. “I’m so scared it would take the death of a young child in Union County for them to say oh maybe we should do something.”

A student quickly started an online petition saying she was afraid to go to school without certain policies in place.

Jordan Benn decided to keep his kindergarten out of public school and therefore enrolled him in a private school.

“Follow the science. And honestly follow the crowd. It looks like most other counties in North Carolina are doing it,” Benn said.

Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, called the education council’s decision “reckless” and said it did not prioritize safety.

“The health and safety of our students and staff should be the number one priority of all decision-makers within our public schools,” Kelly said in a statement. “The Union County Board of Education’s decision to allow students to attend school without masks, end contact tracing and most quarantine procedures is surprising and deeply concerning. It is reckless and goes against the Union County’s own department of health, state, and federal public health officials.The NCAE is investigating safety options for staff and students, especially those who are not. not eligible for a vaccine during this ongoing pandemic. ”

Last week, Union County was named by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper as one of the remaining school districts not requiring masks.

In a statement to WCNC Charlotte, NCDHHS said:

“We all have the same goals of keeping our students in class. We understand the frustration families and school leaders are expressing in Union County as the pandemic continues to take so much.

In times of high rates of viral spread, prevention strategies at several levels – vaccination, masking and screening – reduce the risk of spread in schools and best protect students and staff. All but three of North Carolina’s school districts follow the CDC and NCDHHS recommendation for universal masking in schools. In these districts, students and staff exposed to COVID-19 can avoid quarantine because masks, when worn appropriately, reduce the risk of exposure. Without masking, quarantining unvaccinated people is essential to protect students and staff and prevent further spread of the virus in schools.

The decisions of the Union County Board of Education not to require masks and to allow students who have been exposed to COVID-19 to attend school are troubling and could have serious consequences for the health of all residents – especially since the county had the third highest number of COVID- 19 cases in the state for children under 18 for the week ending September 11 and over 16% of all tests in the county were positive for the 14-day period ending 9/11. Following proven and long-established public health practices that prevent the spread of disease will keep students in the classroom and end the pandemic. We are examining what additional actions may be needed to protect the health of students, staff and the community in Union County. “

After the Union County Schools Education Board’s decision on Monday, the Union County Board of Commissioners announced an emergency meeting for Monday evening. In their public notice, the commissioners did not directly mention the school board’s decision, but said they would review the guidelines recommended by the state.

With high community transmission and stressed hospitals, Joyner said masking in schools is a critical way to make the community safer.

“I think we’re all in that position right now where we have to make a little more sacrifice,” he said.

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