Photo: Rodnae Productions (Pexels)
Raleigh, North Carolina. With COVID-19 cases reaching pandemic highs, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services urges K-12 schools to promote immunization and boosters for students and staff and require that students and staff wear masks indoors to keep students in the classroom and limit risk. transmission rate of COVID-19.
“Research and experience in this pandemic has shown that it is essential that we do everything we can to keep our students safe in the classroom,” said NCDHHS Chief Undersecretary Susan Gale Perry. “In-person learning is more than just academic, it’s also about kids interacting with their peers, getting healthy meals, and accessing critical support services.”
Requiring masks in schools reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released an updated review of scientific data that continues to show the benefits of using face masks in reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The updated review included a study of the effectiveness of mask use in 70 K-12 schools during the 2020-21 school year, which showed that secondary transmission rates were significantly lower for interactions between people wearing masks.
Excluding a student or staff member from the school after an exposure to COVID-19 should be the last resort. NCDHHS has provided several tools to help schools achieve this goal. A K-12 student or staff member who has been in close contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19, and who has not developed symptoms or tested positive, can still attend school if:
- The exposed person has had their COVID-19 vaccinations. For adults, this includes braces.
- The exposed person has had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the past 90 days.
- The exposed person and the person with a confirmed case of COVID-19 were wearing masks correctly when the exposure occurred.
NCDHHS is adding another tool to help keep students in the classroom. Recent data published by the ABC Science Collaborative showed that Test-to-Stay can be an effective strategy to further reduce absences and reduce the risk of further transmission of COVID-19 in schools where masks are required. NCDHHS has incorporated these findings into the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit .
With the addition of the Test-to-Stay option, the list of scenarios to stay in the classroom is expanded to include exposures without a mask (for example, when students are having lunch). This Test-to-Stay option only applies to K-12 school settings that require masks, which data has shown to limit the risk of transmission. As part of Test-to-Stay, the person who was exposed to COVID-19 must:
- Get tested the day an exposure is reported.
- Get tested again five days after exposure (or as close to five days as possible).
- Wear a mask for 10 days after exposure.
- Except to attend school, stay home and avoid others.
“Protecting our students and staff requires layers of protection to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said NCDHHS State Health Director and Medical Director Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, MD. “In addition to vaccines and masks, Test-to-Stay is another tool that can help minimize the spread of COVID-19 while maximizing time in the classroom.”
School districts, charter schools, and private schools can request test kits and other testing support from NCDHHS as part of the StrongSchoolsNC K-12 COVID-19 Testing Program . In addition, public schools may request funds to hire additional school nurse support staff for school tests and other school health services.
Students, staff, and families are reminded to take precautions to protect themselves and their communities by getting vaccinated (and boosting as soon as eligible), wearing a mask that fits them, and getting tested for COVID-19 if they believe. who may have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms.