Union County school board votes to end contact tracing and quarantines

Kristin Travis, a community outreach doula, holds a home COVID-19 test kit Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

RALEIGH — The Union County Public Schools Board of Education voted on Feb. 1 to end contact tracing and quarantining processes in the district. 

Following a COVID-19 update, the board discussed the joint resolution previously passed by the county commissioners and the board to end contact tracing and quarantining and then put forth a motion to end those practices. 

A motion in part stated, “It is becoming increasingly evident that this virus is not going away and we have to live with it in a way that doesn’t unreasonably risk our children’s education and mental health. We need to support the physical and mental well-being of our students by keeping them in the classroom when they are healthy. And given the fact that both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons can get COVID it makes no sense to have unvaccinated to quarantine if exposed while vaccinated individuals do not have to quarantine if exposed.” 

Union County’s Health Department was cited as concurring with the language of the resolution and motion. 

Last year, former NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen threatened legal action against the district when it last proposed dropping the contact tracing and quarantining procedures. 

Board Vice Chair Kathy Heintel said the reason they were using Feb. 7 as a start date was to give staff time to get the information out to schools, nurses and other employees. 

Randolph County’s school board passed a similar resolution at its December board meeting. At the most recent meeting of the Randolph board in January of this year, board members remarked they received no response from state officials on the matter. 

Cases in Union schools have been declining by over 50% over the last two weeks and the county level numbers have also dropped significantly. During the Union board meeting it was stated that of the over 46,500 students in Union County, only 26 students and 16 staff tested positive as of a report the board received that day. 

The question was raised by District 1 Rep. Rev. John Kirkpatrick IV of how safe it was to remove the “only measures we have right now” to track the virus and “keep kids safe.” 

“We are 41% positive rate in the county and we do not have a mask mandate, which assists with keeping kids in school, all right? And we’re getting ready to eliminate contact tracing within our schools, the only measures we have to assist with this pandemic,” Kirkpatrick said.  

“This isn’t new in the United States to do this,” Heintel said in response to Kirkpatrick. She cited other districts and states like Georgia and South Carolina that had dropped the measures and were “doing just fine.” 

The motion to drop contact tracing and quarantining passed 8-1. Kirkpatrick, who believes it is too early to end the practices, was the only vote against the motion.  

There was no change made to Union County Schools’ policy of those infected with COVID isolating at home for five days. 

Union County Public Schools has been mask-optional since the start of the 2021-22 school year. The board also voted unanimously to maintain masking as being optional for staff and students. 

The move by the Union County school board came on the same day the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) published an updated version of its Contact Tracing Procedures for K-12 Schools 

The procedures document says “K-12 school leaders, public and private, should review current practices and increase the speed and efficiency of contact tracing in collaboration with the health department.”  

Four steps are “strongly recommended,” which include: 

  1. Provide instructions for cases and close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case to be excluded from school;  
  1. Share information about school-affiliated cases and close contacts with the local health department securely and efficiently;  
  1. Communicate transparently with students, staff, and families; and  
  1. Collaborate with their local health department to take any additional recommended actions.  

Similar to the StrongSchoolsNC toolkit, there is no change log in the contact tracing document, making it difficult to see what changes were made. The toolkit was also updated on Jan. 13, 2022. No press release or announcement of the changes for either document was made by NCDHHS. 

About A.P. Dillon 651 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_