COVID-19 Testing Will Come To Some NC Schools This Month
North Carolina health officials plan to pilot a COVID-19 testing program in public schools this month.
The state will get more than 3 million antigen tests from the federal government, health officials told the state Board of Education on Thursday. Those tests detect current infection with the coronavirus.
State Health Director Elizabeth Tilson said they’ll be used for students and staff who have COVID-19 symptoms, as well as close contacts of people who test positive for the coronavirus.
"The point about testing will be early identification of people who may be positive so that we can then more quickly put in those control measures to prevent spread through the schools," Tilson said.
Participation in the pilot will be voluntary, and parental consent will be required for testing students. Tests could be done at schools, hospitals or mobile locations, all in partnership with local health departments.
Chief Deputy Health Secretary Susan Gale-Perry said the state is seeking districts and charter schools that want to take part. She hopes to select pilot districts and get tests to them in mid-December.
Masks At Recess
Also Thursday, the state board heard that the governor’s latest COVID-19 order could require North Carolina’s schools to rethink the way they do recess.
Rebecca Planchard, a policy adviser to the state health secretary, said last week’s executive order no longer allows a mask exemption during heavy exercise. Most schools have been giving students a mask break when they go outside.
"If those children are consistently six feet apart and they are outdoors, they do not need to wear masks," she said. "However, if those children come within six feet of each other and they are outdoors, they do need to wear masks."
The mask mandate covers everyone age 5 and up — and as of last week, it also extends to private schools. It also requires face coverings for all indoor exercise at schools.
Cases Rising, Clusters Low
Gale-Perry noted the rising number of COVID-19 cases statewide, but said schools are not seeing a corresponding spike in clusters — defined as five or more cases — that appear to be caused by school spread.
The state currently has 31 active school clusters, involving 207 students and 102 staff.
North Carolina's public schools serve 14 times as many students as its private schools. But according to Thursday's report, private schools account for just over half the clusters and two-thirds of the cases linked to school clusters.
Gale-Perry said that indicates the procedures public schools are using to deal with suspected and confirmed cases are working to prevent spread. Many schools that are open for in-person instruction have had individual cases — sometimes several at one school — but health officials haven't classified them as a cluster because they don't appear to be related.
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