According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Delta variant is rapidly becoming the predominant SARS-COVID-19 variant in North Carolina and throughout the United States. On July 21, Governor Roy Cooper expressed concern about the rapid increase of new cases in the State, and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) identified the Delta variant as the causal variant of COVID-19 in more than 80% of new COVID-19 cases in North Carolina.
Vaccines are still effective against the Delta variant and are the leading prevention strategy against COVID-19 for those who are eligible. However, most students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade are not yet eligible for vaccination and masking remains the most effective prevention strategy against COVID-19 spread for this age group.
On July 19 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated that masks should be required at schools for individuals older than 2 years of age, as it is an effective mitigation strategy in the school setting and a primary prevention strategy in school communities where the vaccination rates are low among those who are eligible.
On July 1, Guilford County reported a COVID-19 positivity rate of 1.8%. Since then, the positivity has increased to 4.7%. Due to the increase of COVID-19 spread in the community, the risk of in-school COVID-19 transmission has also increased. However, a report issued June 30 by the ABC Science Collaborative showed schools can reopen safely when masking is in place despite higher than desired community transmission rates. GCS participated in the North Carolina study, which included 1.2 million students,160,000 staff members and 100 school districts.
The NCDHHS’ StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit, which was updated on July 21, strongly advises that schools should require mask wearing for students and staff in K-8 schools in order to decrease the risk of in-school COVID-19 transmission.
In Guilford County, 48% of the eligible population ages 12 and up is fully vaccinated; however, only 29% of individuals between 12 to 17 years of age are fully vaccinated. This implies that only 1 in 4 individuals,12 to 17 years of age, are fully vaccinated. For every adult, 18 to 64 years of age who is fully vaccinated, there is another adult who is not in Guilford County.
The NCDHHS and the CDC are strongly advising that school leaders implement COVID-19 testing that would be funded at no cost to the district by NCDHHS. Testing would be offered to participants who are not fully vaccinated. Testing frequency would be decided based on current level of community transmission and vaccination coverage.
Current data shows that COVID-19 is spread in three main ways:
– Breathing in air when close to an infected person who is exhaling small droplets and particles that contain the virus.
– Having these small droplets and particles that contain virus land on the eyes, nose, or mouth, especially through splashes and sprays like a cough or sneeze.
– Touching eyes, nose, or mouth with hands that have the virus on them.
Accordingly, testing should be prioritized for high-risk activities such as sports and extracurricular activities in which increased exhalation occurs.
Since the CDC and NCDHHS COVID-19 prevention strategies vary by COVID-19 vaccination status, both organizations have encouraged school administrators to request voluntary submission of documentation of COVID-19 status: “K-12 administrators who maintain documentation of students’ and workers’ COVID-19 vaccination status can use this information, consistent with applicable laws and regulations, including those related to privacy, to inform prevention practices.”
Moreover, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urged schools to require vaccination proof for staff and students, identifying vaccination status as a critical piece of information when implementing effective mitigation strategies in school.
Per GCS’ legal counsel, while student vaccination status disclosure should remain voluntary for compulsory education activities, the District may require vaccination status information from students regarding participation in voluntary activities. As an employer, GCS may also require all paid staff to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status in order to plan and respond appropriately. As with all medical information pertaining to students or employees, vaccination status will be treated confidentially.
1. Administration recommends approving universal mask requirements inside GCS buildings for the academic year 2021-2022. Universal mask requirements should be reviewed at the end of each academic quarter (every 10 weeks).
2. Administration recommends implementing mandatory COVID-19 testing for students and staff who are not fully vaccinated who also participate in athletic and high-risk extracurricular activities consistent with CDC and NCDHHS guidance.
3. Administration recommends the collection and maintenance of vaccination status for:
a. All GCS employees;
b. All GCS student athletes and coaches; and
c. All GCS student participants in high-risk extracurricular activities.