NC health leader: Union County school board could face legal action if COVID-19 procedures aren’t followed

Dr. Mandy Cohen says the school board’s decision “poses an imminent threat of serious, adverse health consequences for students, teachers, staff, and the public.”
Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 6:22 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 16, 2021 at 7:26 PM EDT
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UNION COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) – Leaders with Union County Public Schools are further explaining their controversial decision to end contact tracing and quarantining.

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This comes the same day WBTV’s news partners at The Charlotte Observer report North Carolina State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen sent the district a letter asking them to comply with state guidance by Friday, or legal action could be taken.

Cohen says the school board’s decision “poses an imminent threat of serious, adverse health consequences for students, teachers, staff, and the public.”

She wrote isolation is required for all presumptive or confirmed cases of COVID-19 and quarantine is required for close contact of someone who is positive, with certain exceptions. Exceptions for those without symptoms include:

  • Staff and students who are fully vaccinated. These individuals do not need to quarantine based on exposure.
  • Staff and students who have had a COVID-19 infection in the past 90 days do not need to quarantine based on exposure.
  • Students do not need to quarantine when face masks are used appropriately by both the student with COVID-19 and the potentially exposed student.

Read the full letter here.

On Wednesday, Union County Public Schools released a lengthy statement on their website explaining how they came to the decision to end contact tracing and quarantine protocols.

The district’s letter did not say it was a response to Cohen’s letter. According to the statement, the decision came after “unsuccessful attempts to work with the Union County Health Department.” District leaders said they were told, in writing, by the local health director that “he has neither directed UCPS to use any particular length of quarantine period nor mandated UCPS follow any particular control measures regarding COVID-19.”

According to the district, the fact that they were not under any sort of a directive came as a “surprise.”

District leaders said they will: continue to report positive cases to local health officials; isolate students and staff if they have Covid-19 symptoms or test positive; communicate with parents when there is a positive case at a school; support the efforts of the local health department to contact trace; and support parents, students and staff in their decision on whether to wear face masks.

WBTV’s Paige Pauroso spoke with Union County Board of Education member Rev. Jimmy Bention who said they will continue to work with the health department, they are just not the ones leading the charge.

“The state health director and the local health director are the ones who are authorized to write letter of quarantine,” Bention said. “We inform them that we are aware of someone declaring a case of COVID and them saying to us there is a case of COVID. That exchange will not cease.”

He says the local school board does not have authority to issue a quarantine to non-positive students and staff, instead it’s their jobs to assist the health department in doing so.

The district also noted they will continue to follow any mandated control measures including quarantine orders implemented by state and local health officials that have the authority to do so.

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