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Union County Reports Fewer Student COVID-19 Cases After Dropping Quarantine Rules

Union County Public Schools reported fewer positive COVID-19 cases among students this week compared to last week. Last week, the district reported 449 students were positive. This week, according to the district’s data dashboard that was updated Friday afternoon, the number dropped to 319 positive student cases.

Positive cases among staff ticked up slightly. This week, the district reported 33 positive cases in staff members, compared with 30 positive staff cases last week.

Last week, the district’s COVID-19 dashboard reported 7,153 students were quarantined. This week, Union County reported 1,659 students were “isolated or excluded.”

On Monday, the Union County Board of Education voted to stop requiring students and staff to quarantine after possible exposure to COVID-19, unless they have symptoms or a positive test, and to leave all contact tracing and quarantine guidance responsibilities to the Union County Health Department. The district said in a statement following Monday’s vote that the “statutory authority of managing contact tracing and quarantine is that of Union County Public Health.”

North Carolina’s top health official, Dr. Mandy Cohen, threatened in a letteron Wednesday that the board could face “legal action” if it did not reinstate quarantine rules by Friday at 5 p.m.

Shortly after 5 p.m. Friday, the Union County Board of Education announced it would hold a special meeting Monday in closed session with counsel, and an open meeting "for a COVID-19 update and a discussion about the letter from NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen."

“Our attorneys have had productive conversations with attorneys for the Union County Board of Education, and we are hopeful that we can avoid further legal action,” a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement early Friday afternoon.

Cohen’s letter said the board’s decision “poses an imminent threat of serious adverse health consequences” for school staff, students and the general public and that isolation and quarantine are required procedures for schools in North Carolina’s StrongSchoolsNC toolkit.

Union County remains one of five North Carolina school districts that does not require masks in schools, defying the recommendations of public health officials.

Meanwhile, Lincoln County also defied the advice of health officials when its school board voted Wednesday to drop its mask mandate and quarantine rules.

“We are currently looking at what actions will be taken in Lincoln County,” a DHHS spokesperson said in a statement Friday afternoon. “Again, it is our hope that we can work together. Our priority is to protect student, staff and community health.”

WFAE's Ann Doss Helms contributed reporting.

Copyright 2021 WFAE

Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literture and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. In her free time, Claire likes listening to podcasts and trying out new recipes.