On October 8, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services updated its StrongSchools toolkit and protocols for how NC public schools are to respond to COVID-19 and/or COVID-19-like symptoms. Like other school districts, Wayne County Public Schools has spent this week working to familiarize itself with the changes and train its school nurses and school administrators on the new protocols. WCPS is now working to inform families and staff about the changes.
“We have worked hard to follow the NCDHHS StrongSchools protocols to the letter since the original guidance came out in July to help ensure our school campuses are safe for students and staff,” states Dr. Marcia Manning, assistant superintendent for student support services. “The most significant changes apply to household exclusions from schools and district worksites. We are now working to help our school communities understand that the changes will likely result in more students and staff being instructed to stay home, even those who are seemingly healthy.”
Under the new state protocols, if a student or person in their household develops fever, chills, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, new cough or new loss of taste or smell, all members of the household who are affiliated with the school (such as a sibling who is also a student, or a parent who is a district employee) will not be allowed at school because they are close contacts to a suspected COVID-19 case. All members of the household will be excluded from a school for fourteen days unless the symptomatic individual receives a negative PCR COVID-19 test or an alternative diagnosis from a health care provider which explains the symptoms and is fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medicine. While the PCR COVID-19 test will still be accepted in order to return to school, a negative antigen test (“rapid test”) will no longer be accepted to rule out COVID-19 in an individual with one of the symptoms listed above as part of the new NCDHHS requirements.
WCPS is also working to let families know that with the NCDHHS changes it is now possible that a school that has no reported COVID-19 cases could be temporarily transitioned from Plan B (hybrid face-to-face and remote instruction) to Plan C (full remote instruction) if too many teachers and staff are out at the same time due to children or other household members having a fever or other COVID-19 like symptoms.