Union County School Board rejects quarantine measures, halts contact tracing, orders students back to school

Union County Board of Education. (Photo: ucps.k12.nc.us)

One of the only school districts in North Carolina not to require masks in its schools, went a step further Monday in its approach to dealing with the coronavirus. In a specially called meeting, the Union County Board of Education voted effective immediately, to halt all staff responsibilities regarding contact tracing and quarantining for students and staff, except as required by law.

“Due to the lack of legal authority, UCPS students who have been contacted by UCPS staff via contact tracing, are no longer obligated or under orders of quarantine that have been communicated in writing or by phone contact, since we do not have the legal authority,” said board member Gary Sides.

“And they can come back?” asked at-large board member Rev. Jimmy H. Bention, Sr.

“They need to come back,” responded Sides.

“As long as they have no symptoms,” offered board chair Melissa Merrell.

“And this includes staff as well,” said Sides.

Only Rev. John J. Kirkpatrick voted against the amendment, which easily passed 8-1.

For the week of September 6-10, Union County reported 479 positive COVID cases with 7,381 students and staff in quarantine. Quarantine is a precaution recommended for an individual who has been identified as a close contact to someone with COVID-19.

The statement from the school district reads in part:

All students and staff who do not have a positive COVID-19 test or symptoms, should return to school or work immediately.

If a student or staff member has the following symptoms: fever or chills, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, headache, they should stay home, stay away from others and call their health care provider.

Students and staff who have been isolated due to a positive case or COVID-19 symptoms, should not report to school or work until they have completed 10 days of isolation, symptoms have improved and fever free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication.

Face coverings will remain optional for students and school staff.

Roughly 46% of the county’s residents are fully vaccinated.

Watch Monday’s full school board meeting below:

NC surpasses 15,000 COVID deaths, nearly one-third of new cases in children under 17

Gov. Roy Cooper

Governor Roy Cooper said Thursday there is increasing urgency for everyone ages 12 and older to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

For the week ending Sept. 4, children age 17 and under made up 31% of the state’s new COVID-19 cases.

That is the highest percentage since the pandemic began.

“The numbers aren’t good, especially the number of people in the hospital and dying,” Cooper said.

In the past 24 hours, the coronavirus has claimed 110 lives with North Carolina recording 15,004 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

By far, the most people hospitalized right now by COVID are unvaccinated.

The governor said COVID vaccines are continuing to do their job, stopping severe illness and death among those who have had the shots.

“If you’re still unsure about getting one, how about getting off social media and get on the phone with your doctor,” Gov. Cooper pressed. “That is the best place for accurate medical information.”

North Carolina is averaging 6,000 new cases of COVID daily, in large part because of the highly contagious delta variant.

“Our case rates are highest for children 17 and younger,” cautioned state Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen.

School districts that initially allowed for masking to be optional have reversed course to help slow the spread.

Now 109 school districts, covering roughly 96% of the state’s public school children are requiring masks to be worn indoors.

Yet only 35% of those in the 12-17 age bracket have been vaccinated.

The governor said Thursday that all options remain on the table with regards to mandating vaccinations for state employees and teachers.

“Right now we moved to have state employees and cabinet agencies required to verify that they have been vaccinated. I hope local school systems will move toward this,” said Cooper.

“I hope more teachers will understand that it’s really important to protect their students.It’s also important to protect themselves.”

Cooper said his administration will study President Biden’s new executive order requiring federal employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing.

Layers of protection

With 100 counties seeing high levels of COVID transmission, Sec. Cohen stressed the need for all North Carolinains to ‘add layers’ to protect themselves.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen

“Obviously, get vaccinated. Wear a mask when you are indoors in public settings. Get tested in you’ve had an exposure or if you have have symptoms. And seek treatment early for COVID.”

Click here to learn more about monoclonal antibody treatments.

Cohen said the virus is seeking out the unvaccinated, and that leaves a number of children too young to get a shot highly susceptible.

“There are going to be some cases where a child has a simple cold, and other kids get really sick. And it’s not clear which kid is going to fall into what category.”

Cohen says because of that broad spectrum, it’s imperative that adults who are able to get the vaccine get their shot.

“As a parent of two children who are unvaccinated – I have a seven and a nine year old – I feel good about them going to in-person school, when we are using those safety protocol,” said Dr. Cohen.

Cohen also encouraged those attending large outdoor events like college football games to mask-up.

“Layers of protection are important. If you are doing something where you are shouting or singing, where you are doing a lot more heavy breathing. Those are the times where you are going to want to wear a mask, because risks can increase in that case.”

North Carolina has administered over 10.7 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 62 percent of the adult population now fully vaccinated.

Biden to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for federal employees and contractors, reports say

Pregnant women should be vaccinated for COVID-19, says Duke expert

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Pregnant women who are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 are a higher risk of complications, admission to hospital ICUs, and death, a Duke University specialist said Wednesday.

Dr. Geeta Swamy, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Duke University School of Medicine told reporters Wednesday that women who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant should be vaccinated for COVID-19.

The vaccine does not cause infertility or pre-term birth, she said.

“Given the complications related to COVID infections are more likely to occur with later, advancing pregnancy, we really recommend women get the vaccine as early as they can,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month urged vaccination for pregnant women as the Delta variant spread and hospitalizations increased.

COVID-19 vaccination rates for pregnant women remain low, however. Less than 25% of pregnant people ages 18-49 had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Aug. 28, according to the CDC.

Pregnant women are hesitant for a lot of reasons, Swamy said.

“Pregnant women frequently put their developing fetus ahead of their concerns for themselves or their own health,” she said. “What we try to do is to talk to pregnant women and their families about the fact that in order to have a healthy baby, we really need to make sure we have a healthy mother.”

The coronavirus Delta variant has swept through North Carolina, causing new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to hit highs not seen since January.

On Tuesday, 3,790 people were in North Carolina hospitals with COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. About 25% were adults in ICUs.

Sixty-one percent of North Carolina adults are fully vaccinated, according to DHHS.

Nationwide, nearly 120,000 pregnant  women have been diagnosed with COVID, according to the CDC.

Doctors in Alabama have reported alarming increases in pregnant women with COVID-19 in hospital ICUs.

Swamy said Duke and UNC hospitals have not seen such dramatic increases, but there are more pregnant women in ICUs since the Delta variant took hold than there were in the beginning of the pandemic.

“Now we’re seeing more than a handful at any given time,” she said. “More than we would expect.”

Legislature’s plans for the use of American Rescue Plan funds fall short in three important ways

Click here to view and download a comprehensive list of the ARP items from the NC House and Senate budgets.

The $5.4 billion in flexible funding that North Carolina received from the federal American Rescue Plan presents a tremendous opportunity for the state. With such an unprecedented cash infusion, state leaders have a rare opportunity to both invest in transformational changes that can help all North Carolina communities respond to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, and lay a strong foundation for the future.

Unfortunately, an analysis of the planned uses of these dollars in the competing House and Senate budget proposals reveals a haphazard slew of line items – more than a hundred in each proposal – that altogether fail to provide a vision for change in our state.

Budget conferees are currently attempting to negotiate a compromise budget bill that will be presented to each chamber and, if approved, sent to the Governor. Our analysis to date has focused on the House and Senate proposals for the state’s General Fund dollars; however, the respective state budget proposals also include suggested uses for much of the flexible funding that was received by the state via the federal American Rescue Plan (via the State Fiscal Recovery Fund).

In addition to allocating the American Rescue Plan dollars, the House and Senate plans also allocate issue-specific federal grants to the appropriate state agencies. These dollars will go to support services including child care, mental health, and substance abuse, and will support areas like transportation, capital projects, small business credit initiatives, and more.

Three key takeaways emerge from our analysis (see below for more details):

  1. A lack of transparency and public input from communities is severely limiting the positive impact that’s possible with these funds.
  2. Rather than constructing a coherent vision of the transformational opportunities presented by the influx of flexible federal dollars, the budget proposals instead rely upon mostly arbitrary, one-time allocations for specific needs in specific communities.
  3. Rather than using federal dollars to make up for anticipated near-term losses resulting from a new round of tax cuts, North Carolina should pursue the more sustainable path of investing state dollars to address long-term needs.

A lack of transparency in the process of developing these appropriations does harm to the communities that are left out. State Fiscal Recovery Fund dollars allocated to state and local governments are able to be used to meet a broad range of needs to respond to COVID-19 and begin to build back stronger communities. Lawmakers should therefore seek and provide extensive opportunities for public input and assess needs in communities to ensure funding is targeted to those who need it most. Instead, the proposed plans allocate dollars to narrow uses without any indication of what needs exist.   Read more