Last week, state officials shared important guidance regarding employee COVID-19 vaccination requirements, as well as revised isolation/quarantine requirements for K-12 schools. In a memo sent last Thursday to school district leaders, Superintendent Catherine Truitt noted school districts are currently NOT required to comply with the temporary federal OSHA rule requiring vaccination and testing for employers with 100 or more employees. While OSHA is proceeding with enforcement of the temporary rule, the N.C. Department of Labor has not officially adopted the rule, and is required to notify federal OSHA of its intended action to adopt or not adopt the rule by Friday, January 7. Truitt wrote, “while we wait for the legal process to unfold, DPI continues to advise that districts develop their written policy for compliance and consider plans for tracking vaccination status as well as testing for those not vaccinated.”
Also last week, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) updated the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit to reflect new recommendations from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding isolation and quarantines necessitated by COVID-19. Specifically, these changes reduce the length of time students and staff must quarantine after testing positive or being exposed to COVID-19. The revised Toolkit currently states that people who tested positive for COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status, but do not have symptoms, should isolate for at least 5 full days and wear a mask for an additional 5 days. For those testing positive and showing COVID-19 symptoms, the Toolkit recommends isolating from others for at least 5 days since symptoms began, and then wearing a mask for an additional 5 days.
For staff and students only exposed to COVID-19, the Toolkit provides various options based on the individual’s vaccination status. If a person is not exposed and not vaccinated, they should stay away from others for 5 days, and get tested on Day 5 after exposure. If they test negative, the person may return to school while wearing a mask for 5 additional days. The recommendation is the same for vaccinated individuals who are exposed to COVID-19 and eligible for a booster shot but not yet boosted. Lastly, if a vaccinated person is exposed, but they have received a booster or are not yet eligible for a booster, they do not need to isolate from others, but should wear a mask for 10 days.
Toolkit guidance remains unchanged that if an unvaccinated individual had close contact in a classroom or other school setting with an individual with COVID-19, that individual does NOT need to quarantine if both the potentially exposed person and person with COVID-19 were wearing masks appropriately. Representatives from NCDHHS and the Governor’s office noted this week that NCDHHS would be making high-grade masks available in more places that need them, such as school facilities. Those who provide essential services can request these masks online at https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/RequestMasks, and requests will be prioritized.