For local schools, COVID-19 quarantines, infections vary

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, September 1, 2021

SALISBURY — Classes for the 2021-2022 year are underway in all local public and private schools, and COVID-19 is affecting each one differently.

Kannapolis City Schools made it through its first week with only three precautionary quarantines, but 48 people are isolating due to COVID-19.

District communications specialist Ashley Forrest said some of the 44 students who tested positive never stepped foot on campus before the first day last week, and the district has not found any spread on campuses or recorded any COVID-19 clusters. Rather than in-school spread, the positives are people who were infected in the community.

“We have more positive cases than we saw in any given week we saw last year,” Forrest said. “That is community spread.”

Forrest said COVID-positive people are not included in the quarantine figure, which stands at two. The opposite is true for Rowan-Salisbury Schools, where 282 students have tested positive and they’re included in the 3,192 who are quarantined or isolated.

The Kannapolis district does not have statistics on staff vaccination rates. It offered clinics during the summer, and only some staff are sharing their status when it relates to quarantine procedures. While Rowan-Salisbury Schools started with masks optional, KCS began with masks required indoors after its board of education reversed course from an earlier vote.

Despite its larger size, RSS’ total infections were lower after its first week of classes than KCS. The quarantine rate in RSS, by comparison, is many times higher. A caveat is that RSS only records cases that impact the campus, while KCS reported cases of students who never came to school.

On Aug. 18, one week into the school year, RSS recorded 754 student quarantines and 35 infections, along with 64 staff quarantines and 26 infections. The 282 student infections and 3,192 quarantines were recorded Friday in addition to 149 employee quarantines and 52 infections.

The main difference between the two districts in terms of protocols is the mask requirement. RSS did not require masks for its first week of classes.

“We are hoping that wearing of masks helps us keep those quarantine numbers down,” Forrest said.

In August, an exemption was added to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services quarantine rules for students. The exemption, based on low transmissibility between children wearing masks, allows students who are exposed to COVID-19 via another student to be exempt from quarantine if both students were wearing masks.

RSS is contracting for additional cleaning services while KCS is not. Additionally, RSS has identified clusters in 10 of its schools, meaning at least five cases in those schools are linked together.

The difference between masks and no masks is not clear in other schools.

At North Hills Christian School, there are four positive cases and 24 quarantines out of more than 420 students. The four infections all have been linked to exposures outside of the school and no teachers are out due to COVID-19.

The school’s board of directors made masks optional at the beginning of the school year, and North Hills Director of Marketing and Communications Melissa Loveless said the board plans to reevaluate if cases and quarantines have an impact on keeping most students on campus.

At Salisbury Academy, a local private school that began the year with an indoor mask requirement and has no positive cases on campus. Seven students at the school are quarantining due to exposure outside of school.

Academy Director of Marketing and Communications Lizzy Roy said the school is following guidelines from Rowan County Health Department and Board of Health, pointing to masking as an effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“Overall, the school community has been supportive of the masking policy,” Roy said.

Sacred Heart Catholic School started the year with masks optional, but it followed the Charlotte Diocese move to a mask requirement after Mecklenburg County put a mandate in place.

Robin Fisher, marketing and communications director at the school, said there’s a waiver policy for masks and the change from optional to mandatory masks is because of local spread, not what is happening inside the school. The school will reevaluate the mask policy later this month. Sacred Heart was not able to provide quarantine and infection figures.

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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