RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – State health officials have released an updated set of safety guidelines for public schools which includes new guidance for managing possible or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released the “StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit” on Thursday as Gov. Roy Cooper was questioned about masks in schools earlier in the day.

One section that remains the same from January’s toolkit update is masking.

All children and staff in schools K-12 are still required to wear masks indoors in areas of high or substantial transmission.

Citing the CDC, masks are still required for passengers on buses, vans, and other group school transportation.

The toolkit also contains changes to contact tracing, saying “individual contact tracing is a less effective tool for responding to the pandemic at this phase.”

“Individual contact tracing and exclusion from school after an identified exposure (regardless of location of exposure) is no longer recommended statewide in K-12 schools, effective February 21, 2022,” the guidelines say.

The toolkit is also updating guidance on who needs to stay home from school. The guidelines recommend students and staff stay home only if they have COVID-19 symptoms or test positive — no longer recommending asymptomatic people stay home following exposure.

Tilson said the changes are based on the omicron variant’s shorter incubation and contagious periods, and people not knowing they are positive for COVID.

“Contact tracing and exclusion of those people who are identified as close contacts is not an effective tool for decreasing the risk of transmission in most settings now,” North Carolina Health Director Elizabeth Tilson said.

Tilson said the toolkit still recommends notifying people of a potential exposure.

“We sure want our parents to know that their child was exposed, so notification will still be there, just not automatic exclusion of those exposed children,” Tilson said.

People who have been notified of an exposure should:

  • Wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days after the last known exposure, unless an exemption to face covering applies.
  • Be tested immediately if symptomatic, and on day 5 after exposure, unless the person tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 90 days. If school wide notification is done, at least weekly testing is recommended.

Those who are asymptomatic but exposed should be allowed to stay home for 5 days if desired.

The toolkit also says a person who has “all recommended doses of a COVID-19 vaccines, including additional doses and boosters” is considered “up-to-date” on vaccines.

CBS 17 reached out to local school districts to see if they will follow the new recommendations. Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Cumberland, Durham, Johnston, and Wake schools all say they are reviewing the guidance and will send out an update.

The new guidance goes into effect Feb. 21.