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COVID-19 infection, quarantine numbers in Rowan-Salisbury Schools reach new highs

SALISBURY — The number of quarantines and COVID-19 infections in local public school students nearly doubled last week, and both figures reached their highest points this semester.

There were 962 student quarantines in Rowan-Salisbury Schools — 6.65% of the population — and 42 positives on Friday.

District officials say the increases are expected because the students are closer together, about 3 feet, but the definition of close contact for an exposure has not changed from 6 feet. The result is more quarantines. The district expected infections to go up because it reports them based on campus impact, which increases when students are on campus more.

In the old cohort model, a student may have become symptomatic while off campus and not impacted students on campus, but with students on campus four days per week they are less likely to be excluded from the count.

RSS Marketing and Communications Director Tracey Lewis said the other districts in the state have seen increases as well. Lewis said there has been no discussion about modifying schedules for students. Updated guidance from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is expected later this week.

A presentation shown to educators by DHHS on Tuesday shows infection rates decreasing on the whole for most age groups, with peaks in January.

Associate Superintendent Kelly Withers said the district works directly with Rowan County Health Department to judge if it needs to close classrooms, grade levels or entire schools. The district has not received any closure recommendations.

The state has no identified clusters in the school district, meaning at least five infections linked to each other. That could also mean the infections are occurring outside of school settings.

Withers said it is important to remember the quarantines are a mitigation strategy to slow spread of the disease.

RSS School Board member Brian Hightower raised the issue of quarantines during last week’s meeting, citing concerns about ruining spring athletes’ seasons because of the climbing numbers. During that meeting, Hightower noted the district still has a 10-day quarantine duration instead of the seven-day period now allowed by the state.

Withers said the duration the health department has set is still 10 days, largely in response to the vaccination rate in the county. As of Wednesday, at least 43,470 people in Rowan County have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, leaving just under 100,000 people in the county who have not received any vaccination.

Staff numbers for COVID-19 infections and quarantines have been far more steady and low, with only 18 quarantines and five positive cases as of last week. Those figures include all staff in the district.

Withers attributed the low staff numbers to staff still being asked to stay 6 feet away from students and other staff members, meaning they do not meet the criteria to quarantine as easily.

Withers said the district has not received any communication from the state about changing the criteria for quarantine.

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