CARTHAGE — A week after North Carolina’s Speaker of the House called for an end to K-12 masking and quarantine policies, Moore County Schools took a first step.
In a 6-1 vote, the county school board voted Monday night to drop mask requirements. The change went into effect Tuesday. Masks will still be required for school buses due to CDC and other federal rules.
The change in Moore County comes as many other school districts around the state are adapting to new variants and emerging scientific findings that cloth masks are less effective than many had hoped. The Union County School Board voted last week to end contact tracing and quarantines and Asheboro City Schools also ended mask mandates.
Randolph County had previously voted to limit contact tracing by school system personnel in November. School board member Fred Burgess championed the move to report positive cases to the health department, saying at the time, “We are not supposed to do contact tracing. It is the health department that does contact tracing.” State law requires schools to report information on certain communicable diseases to the local health director.
According to sources within Randolph County Schools, contact tracing and quarantines are still significant causes of student and faculty absences.
In Stanly County, the school system superintendent cited COVID-related quarantines as the reason for a spike in teacher absences and a lack of available substitutes.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services updated guidance on quarantines in January to allow students and staff who had a close contact to remain in school if they had not developed symptoms or tested positive. That policy — known as “test to stay” — had been under consideration by NCDHHS months before the CDC announced test to stay in December. The Department added the option in January.
Updates added to the state toolkit in February include dropping contact tracing and alterations to some quarantine policies but kept indoor mask usage in place for all children 5 and up.
In a press release, interim NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley said the updates are “the right approach for this point in the pandemic” and said it “includes flexibility for local schools and health departments to use data to make informed decisions and respond to local conditions.”
The main update to the StrongSchools NC Toolkit says, “Individual contact tracing and exclusion from school of asymptomatic people after an identified exposure is no longer recommended statewide in K-12 schools.”
Moore County’s move brings the system in line with a growing number of public school districts around the state. As of Tuesday, 69 public school districts required masks with 46 not requiring them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance that said cloth masks — which have been the requirement promoted by Gov. Roy Cooper in his executive orders — are the least effective at preventing COVID-19 transmission.
School board member Ed Dennison was the lone vote to continue a mask mandate for Moore County Schools. He cited new variants and vaccination rates as his reasons to keep masks on students, staff and visitors.
Board member David Hensley, who consistently voted to make masks optional, pointed out the changing stances on masks, quarantines and contact tracing by many government agencies. “The science didn’t change, the political science changed,” said Hensley.