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Many parents angry as Union County schools scale back COVID quarantines

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 4:58 PM EDT
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UNION COUNTY, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - The Union County Board of Education’s decision Monday morning to stop COVID-19 contact tracing in schools and do away with most mandatory quarantining was largely met with anger and fear.

After the school board’s vote, one person responded on Twitter: “So they’re doubling down on the entire mess they’ve let their schools become. ... No better way to show you care about the health and safety of children by making them ever more unsafe.”

The vote was 8-1 — Rev. John Kirkpatrick was the lone dissenter. Instead of requiring a proactive quarantine among students and staff after a known COVID-19 exposure, Union County schools now will only make sure students stay home if they are showing symptoms or have themselves tested positive.

Union County remains one of the few districts in the state to not require masking in classrooms. As of Sept. 8, all but three of the state’s 115 school systems have opted for mask mandates.

Monday’s board meeting took place as close to 17% of the school district’s students are not in school either because they contracted COVID-19 or had close contact at school with someone who was sick. Union County schools have nearly the same number of cases among students and staff as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which has an enrollment more than three times higher.

In CMS and schools nationwide with strict indoor mask mandates, the number of people forced to stay home after being exposed to the virus is far less. Health experts have said universal masking cuts down on transmission of COVID-19 and proactive quarantining reduces the risk of a single case becoming an outbreak in a school.

But in Union County, and elsewhere across North Carolina, many people are protesting mask mandates.

While various parents called the decision “reckless”, others praised the board for allowing “healthy children” back in the classroom and one person wrote on Facebook about the vote: “It’s time to start living with this virus.”

Still others say there’s a high risk to students, especially, who have no vaccination option yet.

“By removing all mitigating measures, the Board of Education will allow COVID-19 to spread without check among our school children,” said Kathryn Shaw, an ER physician and a parent of a Marvin Ridge middle school student. “And remember, many of the children are below the age of 12 and cannot be vaccinated.”

UNION COUNTY SCHOOLS VOTE ON COVID-19

As of the week of Sept. 6- Sept. 10, according to UCPS data, 7,385 students and staff in UCPS were quarantined, with 479 positive COVID-19 cases reported.

Those in quarantine are free to return to school right away, the board decided Monday.

“They took the wrong lesson away from the high quarantine numbers and instead of reducing this responsibly by issuing a mask mandate and following all public health recommendations they took a destructive, obviously political approach that will increase spread not only in our schools but in our county,” said parent Sarah Miller in an interview with The Charlotte Observer.

“We now have no measure of protection for our children: no masking, no notification of contact with a positive case, no quarantine, and no vaccines for those under 12.”

Others noted that widespread quarantining in the district would help ensure safety.

“They’re in quarantine for a reason and they could still be asymptomatic,” one person wrote on Twitter. “So doesn’t this, as well as no contact tracing defeat the purpose of trying to keep students/staff safe?”

Another Twitter user wrote: “As a parent in Union County I am disgusted. The board should be absolutely ashamed.”

Parent Amy Gallagher added: “I am astounded and disgusted at the Union County School Board’s negligence and irresponsibility. ...They are going against all authoritative expert advice. The district schools have gone from a total of 176 positive students and staff the first week, to 367 the second week, and now 479 positive this past week. Those numbers are already rising exponentially and that was with quarantining rules in place. Now asymptomatic students will be roaming the halls spreading the disease that much faster.”

School staff will continue to report any positive cases to the Union County Health Department and provide information as required by the health department, the board voted.

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