State’s guidance provides preview of when positive COVID-19 cases emerge in schools

Published 10:30 pm Thursday, July 23, 2020

By Carl Blankenship

SALISBURY – If Rowan-Salisbury Schools is going to keep kids in school this semester, it has to keep COVID-19 out.

Students will be required to answer pre-screening questions electronically each day before they arrive, and will have their temperatures checked before they enter buildings. If a student has any signs or incidents where he or she has been exposed to COVID-19, he or she will be evaluated again to confirm there has been a diagnosis, symptoms or an exposure. If confirmed, that student will stay home or be held until they can go home. If a student develops symptoms while in class, her or she will be screened again.

That procedure comes from the state’s interim guidance for schools, which was updated on Wednesday and outlines steps that need to be taken if there is even a suspected case of COVID-19.

If a student is exposed to the disease, he or she should be sent home for 14 days. If a student is diagnosed with no symptoms, they can not go to school for 10 days, according to the guidance.

A student should not come to school if they have been confirmed positive for COVID-19 and not been tested 10 days since their first symptoms. If the person tests negative for COVID-19 but had symptoms and no other confirmed diagnosis, they must go 24 hours without fever and feel well for 24 hours.

If there is a “confirmed” screening, schools are to notify the county health department and report the nature of the screening — whether that be an exposure, confirmed case or someone who is symptomatic.

If someone is symptomatic or confirmed to have COVID-19, the school needs to evaluate areas to be closed off so they can be sanitized and so staff can consult with the county health department on further steps — ranging from closing a classroom to an entire building. A symptomatic student at school will be isolated for pickup.

RSS Director of Student Services Carol Ann Houpe said students will be able to continue with virtual learning if they are well enough to do so.

A similar procedure to students is recommended if a staff member is flagged during screening. That person must immediately go home and, depending on the circumstances, quarantine or seek medical attention.

Houpe said the district is finalizing its planning with the health department. The health department will perform interviewing and contact tracing to help gauge what measures need to be taken. But Houpe said the goal is to keep cases from entering the buildings in the first place.

Rowan County Emergency Management Division Chief T.J. Brown said there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a what to do after a school has flagged someone through screening and sent that person home. The state advises to consult with the local health department about whether parts of or a whole school need to be closed after an incident. Brown said the county needs to make sure school officials have the latest information so they can make those decisions.

“One county may be seeing very little transmission of COVID-19 where two counties away they may be experiencing tons of transmission,” Brown said.

Schools will all be required to follow certain guidelines set forth by the state. Students and staff will all be required to wear masks and maintain 6 feet of social distance. There will be far fewer students on campus due to alternating instructional days and students who opted for virtual learning. The district has contracted for enhanced cleaning procedures and purchased hand sanitizer for each class room and entrance.

Contact tracing involves asking someone who has tested positive how long they have had symptoms and who they have been around so those people can then be notified if they are considered exposed. If two people sat 6 feet apart from each other and were both masked, that would not be considered exposure. Speaking to someone unmasked in close proximity would be.

“We’ve said this many times: We’re in uncharted waters,” Brown said.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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