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Union County Schools Will Stop COVID-19 Contact Tracing And Most Quarantines

 The Union County school board met in a special-called meeting Sept. 13.
The Union County school board met in a special-called meeting Sept. 13.

In a specially-called Zoom meeting that lasted less than 15 minutes, the Union County Board of Education voted 8-1 Monday morning to immediately stop COVID-19 contact tracing in its schools and to cut back its quarantine requirements.

All students and staff who do not have a positive COVID-19 test or symptoms “should return to school or work immediately,” according to a news release from Union County Public Schools. The district said that the “statutory authority of managing contact tracing and quarantine is that of Union County Public Health.”

The Rev. John Kirkpatrick IV was the only board member to vote against the motion.

Last week, the district’s COVID-19 dashboard reported 7,153 students were quarantined after possible exposure and 449 students had tested positive. Two hundred thirty-two staff members were quarantined, according to the dashboard, and 30 staff members tested positive.

“Our staff will continue to handle positive and presumptive positive cases,” said Gary Sides, vice chair of the county’s Board of Education, during the Monday meeting. “We will report any positive COVID cases to the Union County Health Department and we will provide information required by the health department.”

Union County is one of just three North Carolina school districts that does not currently require students and staff to wear masks in schools, defying the recommendations of public health officials. It's also the largest school district in the state without a mask requirement. Under North Carolina's quarantine rules, students who are exposed to COVID-19 are allowed to remain at school as long as they have no symptoms if everyone is properly masked. Without universal masking, exposed students can be sent home for seven to 14 days.

“I hope that Union County … will change their mind on this and move to a mandatory mask mandate there in order to protect students,” Gov. Roy Cooper said during a news conference on Friday.

Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, said that they will continue to work with local school boards.

Last month, Union County Health Director Dennis Joyner asked the board to reverse its decision not to mandate masks, citing the surging community spread of COVID-19.

A spokesperson for the Union County Health Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

This is a developing story that may be updated.

Copyright 2021 WFAE. To see more, visit WFAE.

Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literture and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. In her free time, Claire likes listening to podcasts and trying out new recipes.
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