Alamance-Burlington school board members agreed this week to consider a four-day reduction in the amount of time students must quarantine following exposure to Covid-19.
Two school board members say the 14-day quarantine is unnecessarily long, while their vice chairman insists that shortening the quarantine would defy the county health director and potentially expose other students to the virus.
“All I’m asking is that we go with the toolkit, with the guideline for a 10-day quarantine. The positivity rate at the end of August was 11.8 percent. We’ve cut that almost in half.” – School board member Sandy Ellington-Graves
Sandy Ellington-Graves asked her fellow school board members Monday night to consider reducing the quarantine from 14 to 10 days – effective immediately – but ultimately agreed to wait for another update from the county’s health director before asking for a vote. “All I’m asking is that we go with the toolkit, with the guideline for a 10-day quarantine,” she said Monday night. “The positivity rate at the end of August was 11.8 percent. We’ve cut that almost in half.”
When the school year began in August, Alamance County health director Tony Lo Giudice recommended ABSS require all exposed individuals or “close contacts” (defined as anyone who’s within six feet, for 15 minutes or more during a 24-hour period, of a person who tests positive for the virus) to quarantine for 14 days.
The latest revision to the “Strong Schools N.C. Toolkit,” released October 7 by the state Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), outlines two options for shortening the quarantine for individuals who are exposed to Covid-19 while at school. The options include: a 10-day quarantine for asymptomatic individuals; or a seven-day quarantine for asymptomatic individuals who test negative for Covid-19 no earlier than day five of the quarantine. The CDC also continues to recommend universal masking and six-foot social distancing for any exposed individuals, based on the “Strong Schools N.C. Toolkit.”
School board member Patsy Simpson had previously questioned why ABSS isn’t following the quarantine guidelines in the state’s “toolkit.” This week, she raised concerns about the number of students who’ve been quarantined but never tested positive for Covid-19.
“I will never say we will be without masks.” – School board member Patsy Simpson
“I am concerned with the number of children I know who have been home for quarantines,” Simpson said Monday night. She said she’d be open to reducing the quarantine from 14 to 10 days, providing they test negative for Covid-19 and adhere to the universal masking requirement that ABSS implemented in August, citing a recent uptick in cases that were attributed to the Delta variant of the virus. Simpson added a caveat, telling her fellow school board members Monday night: “I will never say we will be without masks.”
The county’s positivity rate was at 5.7 percent on Monday, said ABSS chief finance officer Jeremy Teetor, who is also serving as acting superintendent while superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson is on a medical leave of absence. Teetor said he had spoken with Lo Giudice Monday afternoon, and reported to the board that the health director acknowledged the downward trajectory in positivity rates and the number of cases per 100,000 people in the county, which as of Monday hovered at 164.59 cases per 100,000 people, Teetor said. The health director said he still isn’t comfortable modifying his quarantine recommendation for ABSS until the number of cases per 100,000 people in the county falls below 150 “for a sustained period of time,” Teetor told school board members Monday night.
“I remember when the health director was here, he said very clearly if we moved to a seven or 10-day quarantine, that is only recommended if students returned wearing masks and [with] social distancing. If your vote stands, we will be doing this against the health department [recommendation].” – School board member Tony Rose
School board vice chairman Tony Rose said he won’t support going against the health director’s recommendation to quarantine individuals who are exposed to Covid-19 for 14 days. “I remember when the health director was here, he said very clearly if we moved to a seven or 10-day quarantine, that is only recommended if students returned wearing masks and [with] social distancing,” which the health director said would be challenging at some schools, Rose recalled Monday night. “If your vote stands, we will be doing this against the health department [recommendation],” he said.
During his update to the school board on September 27, Lo Giudice had also said he would be willing to shorten the quarantine length for ABSS once the county moved from “high” transmission to “substantial or moderate” transmission, as defined by the CDC. Alamance County (and much of the state) remained at “high” transmission levels as of Wednesday, based on the latest CDC data, which also indicates that Alamance County had 143 cases per 100,000 people.
Quarantine for ABSS stricter than county as a whole
Ellington-Graves insisted that she simply wants to give students and their parents the option to follow a 10 or 14-day quarantine. “One student had three or four negative tests, and we’re saying, ‘Sorry – 14 days,’” she said, adding that the recommendations for ABSS are stricter than those for the county as a whole. “The school system has only had 123 positive cases out of 23,000 students,” Ellington-Graves said.
“How are we going to put that logistics on our schools?” Rose asked. “The health department said, for you to go to 10 days, you have to social distance. Are we going to avoid his recommendation about the social distancing for the balance of [four] days? We need to tell staff how we are going to do that; we need to be really clear if we are going to go against the recommendation from the health department.” Rose also questioned the potential risk for other students who may be exposed to Covid-19 from a student who returns to school before completing the existing 14-day quarantine. “What do we say to those families?”
“That you went to the [football] game?” Simpson asked rhetorically, pointing out that ABSS isn’t following Covid-19 guidelines consistently, anyway.
Simpson had previously expressed concerns about the possibility of spreading the virus during football games, since spectators aren’t required to wear face masks or follow social distancing guidelines outdoors. “I’m looking at the numbers who are missing school and have not even had it [Covid-19] at all,” Simpson said Monday night. Students aren’t sitting in their assigned seats – i.e., seating charts that were developed for the 2021-22 school year – in their classrooms or on school buses, she said.
Teetor later asked school board members to delay taking action to reduce the quarantine length, saying ABSS would be better-positioned to defend itself from any pandemic-related litigation. “From a risk management standpoint, it would look better if [we’re] adhering to the health director’s recommendation,” he said. “I err on the side of caution where risk is concerned, particularly something where we don’t know yet whether litigation is down the line.”
While Ellington-Graves had originally wanted the option to follow a 10 or 14-day quarantine to take effect November 1, she ultimately agreed Monday night to rescind her motion, which she said was “out of respect for Mr. Teetor” so the board can get additional information from Lo Giudice. School board members have tentatively agreed to reconsider the matter at their next meeting on November 9.
OTHER CURRENT ABSS COVERAGE:
See: $3,000 December bonuses for all ABSS employees should make for a Merry Christmas: https://alamancenews.com/breaking-monday-night-abss-employees-will-get-3000-december-bonuses/
Some special raises have already been given to some groups: https://alamancenews.com/background-on-newest-raises-thousands-in-bonuses-and-raises-already-approved-for-abss-employees/
Other school systems are starting to give employees bonuses, as well: https://alamancenews.com/other-nearby-school-systems-also-giving-employees-bonuses/