UNION COUNTY, N.C. (WJZY) – The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services sent a letter to Union County Public Schools on Wednesday, urging the district to adopt all recommendations listed in the state COVID-19 toolkit by Friday or legal action may follow.
NCDHHS Sec. Dr. Mandy Cohen said due to the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19, all 100 North Carolina counties are classified as high transmission by the CDC. Her letter said Union County is no exception.
According to NCDHHS, Union County’s seven-day average is more than five times above the CDC threshold for high transmission. The percent of tests that are positive in Union County is 16.2%, well above the CDC’s threshold for high levels of transmission and the state’s 5% goal.
NCDHHS said children under 18 are being hit particularly hard in this latest surge, and now have the highest rate of cases among every age group for the first time in the pandemic in the State of North Carolina.
“Children in Union County are among the most impacted. Union County had the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state for children under 18 for the week of September 11. The rate of cases in children in Union County is substantially higher than counties of similar size and population,” NCDHHS said.
Union County’s case rate for children under 18 last week, between Sept. 5 – Sept. 11, was 748 cases/100,000. This is 1.3 times higher than Cabarrus County 567/100,000, more than three times higher than Cumberland County 288/100,000 and more than three times higher than Durham County 245/100,000, NCDHHS said.
After Monday’s action by the Union County Board of Education to stop contract tracing and allowing students and staff who do not show symptoms of COVID-19 to return to school, NCDHHS said Union County Public Schools are no longer complying with the COVID-19 StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit.
“Schools have several obligations with regards to communicable diseases and required control measures under our public health laws in North Carolina, which are incorporated and set forth in the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit,” NCDHHS said.
- First, if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the school principal must notify the local health director or designee of the positive case
- Second, the school must provide medical or other records pertaining to the COVID-19 case upon request from the local health director or designee, to prevent further spread or to investigate a suspected outbreak. This information request can include, but is not limited to, class rosters, team rosters, locker assignments, teaching schedules, and parent contact information
- Third, schools must ensure that students, teachers, and staff that are subject to isolation or quarantine measures, as described in the Toolkit, are excluded from school for the relevant periods of time
- The Toolkit is clear that Isolation is required for all presumptive or confirmed cases of COVID-19 and that quarantine is required for an individual who has been a close-contact of someone who is determined positive with COVID-19
“As set out in the Toolkit, quarantine of students and staff exposed to COVID-19 can be avoided, and a shortened quarantine period may apply for certain people without symptoms,” NCDHHS explained in their letter to Union County Public Schools.
Situations That Apply
- Staff and students who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine or be excluded from school based on exposure
- Staff and students who have had a COVID-19 infection in the past 90 days do not need to quarantine or be excluded from school based on exposure
- Students do not need to quarantine or be excluded from school based on exposure when face masks are being used appropriately by both student with COVID-19 and the potentially exposed student. *Robust data demonstrates the effectiveness of face masks, quarantine is not required when both students are wearing a mask consistently and appropriately, NCDHHS said
“Failure to adhere to the isolation and quarantine policies in the Toolkit places students, teachers, and staff, as well as those living in their households and communities, at significant risk of being infected with COVID-19, a highly contagious virus,” NCDHHS said in their letter. “This failure also creates a substantial threat of serious adverse health consequences for students, teachers, staff, and the public more broadly.”
In the letter, NCDHHS said Union County Public Schools has until Friday, Sept. 17 to adopt all of the recommendations in the Toolkit and, at the very least, to reimpose the requirements to cooperate with local public health officials in identifying individuals exposed to COVID-19, as well as exclude students subject to isolation and quarantine measures described in the Toolkit.
“If Union County public schools do not take such steps by September 17, legal action may be required to
protect the public’s health,” NCDHHS said in their letter on Wednesday.