Alamance-Burlington school board members voted 5-1 this week to shorten the quarantine for students who are exposed to Covid-19 by four days, from 14 days to 10 days.
School board members have previously expressed concerns about the amount of instruction that classroom students are missing while being quarantined due to exposure to Covid-19, even though they may never test positive.
Sandy Ellington-Graves had asked two weeks ago to consider shortening the quarantine, though she and her fellow school board members agreed to postpone a vote until they could hear an update on Covid-19 case rates from Alamance County health director Tony Lo Giudice.
School board member Patsy Simpson introduced the motion Tuesday afternoon to shorten the quarantine length from 14 to 10 days, which passed 5-1. Voting to approve the motion were Simpson and school board members Wayne Beam, Ryan Bowden, Sandy Ellington-Graves, and Donna Westbrooks. School board vice chairman Tony Rose cast the lone vote against shortening the quarantine for ABSS students from 14 to 10 days.
As of 12:00 a.m. Tuesday, Alamance County had 19 new daily cases of Covid-19, Lo Giudice told school board members during their latest meeting.
The county is currently averaging 28 new cases per day, compared to an average of about 83 new cases per day on August 26, when he recommended a 14-day quarantine for all kindergarten through 12th-grade students in the county – not just ABSS, the health director recalled Tuesday afternoon.
The county’s current case rate per 100,000 residents is 116, which Lo Giudice said is down considerably from a rate of 550 cases per 100,000 in late August. The Covid-19 test positivity rate is 4.6 percent over a seven-day timeframe, “down from 12 percent in August,” he said.
Meanwhile, the percentage of children ages 12 and older who are fully vaccinated has increased from about 50 percent in late August to 60.9 percent, Lo Giudice told the school board.
Last week, the Federal Drug Administration approved the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech for emergency use authorization in children ages five through 11, an effort that Lo Giudice lauded in his latest update to the school board.
Area pediatricians have started offering that vaccine in their offices last week, and Cone Health is planning to host a vaccination event for children ages five through 11 on Saturday, November 20, with a goal of delivering 1,000 vaccines, the health director told school board members Tuesday afternoon.
“We have some great tools to fight Covid here,” Lo Guidice said. “First and foremost is the vaccination effort; we strongly encourage parents to talk to their pediatricians.” He also suggested that parents “can go to YouTube” and search for the FDA advisory committee meeting dated October 28. “It’s very plain and easy to follow,” the health director said. “The other strategy is masking.” The latest update to the state Department of Health and Human Services’ “frequently asked questions” on its website continues to recommend universal masking in school settings within counties that have “high transmission” levels, Lo Giudice said.
State and federal public health authorities have said that masks will only be recommended for unvaccinated individuals once “high transmission” counties shift to moderate transmission levels, the health director told school board members this week. “Once [we get to low transmission], masks can be removed for all,” he said, adding, that other treatments such as monoclonal antibodies “are a very effective tool to keep people out of the hospital.”
Noting that the board was scheduled to vote on the face covering policy and quarantine length, school board vice chairman Tony Rose asked the health director what his recommendation would be for ABSS.
School board member Ryan Bowden countered that based on the case positivity rate, Alamance County is within the “low transmission” range of 0 to 4.999 percent.
“You’re right; we’re at 4.6 percent but 116 [cases] per 100,000,” Lo Giudice responded. “Basically the guidance says look at the highest number,” he added, referring to the case positivity rate or number of positive cases per 100,000 residents.
At the same time, the health director acknowledged, “We’ve had a significant drop in these cases” and that he’d previously said publicly that he’d recommend a 10-day quarantine once the number of positive cases per 100,000 had dropped to 150. He also added a caveat: that ABSS students would need to observe the six-foot social distancing guidelines and wear face masks at all times, in addition to urging parents to have their children tested after quarantining for five days.
“We have logistical issues with the social distancing piece of that,” Rose told Lo Giudice this week. “If we are not able to consistently do social distancing, is your recommendation that we stay at 14 days [for quarantining]?”
“It’s pretty clear-cut within the guidance,” the health director responded.
“Within schools that can do social distancing, a 10-day quarantine is possible – are you saying that?” Rose pressed.
“That’s what’s in the guidance,” Lo Giudice said.
School board member Ryan Bowden, however, countered that six-foot social distancing had long gone out the window since school started in August.
After speaking with ABSS principals and school nurses, Bowden said he thinks they would support moving to a 10-day quarantine.
“I’m talking about the four-day balance,” Rose said. “What we’re talking about is someone who was exposed, we’re going to let somebody come back at the 10-day mark and not social [distance].”
“Do they not have the opportunity to do the testing at five days?” Bowden asked.
“Yeah, that’s part of it,” said Rose.
“I agree with Ryan; I’m at a point where I’m for it,” Simpson said before introducing her motion to shorten the quarantine for students from 14 to 10 days. “I am willing to go with a 10-day [quarantine] with social distancing to the extent that we are currently doing.”
Universal masking requirement remains in effect on buses and in ABSS schools
An existing requirement for universal masking on school buses and in ABSS facilities remains in effect, after school board members deadlocked 3-3 on two separate motions related to the face masks Tuesday afternoon.
The first motion would’ve made face masks optional; the second motion was to extend the existing requirement, pending a future recommendation by the county’s health director. Because both motions failed to get a majority vote, the existing requirement for universal masking will remain in place, school board attorney Adam Mitchell said Tuesday.
School board chairman Allison Gant was unable to attend the school board work session due a death in the family, Rose said at the beginning of the meeting Tuesday afternoon.
“I want people to understand – I get emails from people who think I don’t know how to drive anymore because of how I vote, that I chase parked cars,” Beam said following the statutorily-required monthly vote on face coverings. He said he’d vote to make masks optional when the county’s health director recommends it. “I don’t like reading this stuff about how crazy I am,” Beam said, adding with a laugh, “I already know.”
See story on earlier school board discussion: https://alamancenews.com/school-board-divided-over-when-whether-to-shorten-quarantine-periods-for-covid-19/