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North Carolina revises school COVID-19 rules to keep kids and staff in classrooms

 Charlotte-Mecklenburg students will continue wearing masks, as they have since schools opened Aug. 25.
Nancy Pierce
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Charlotte-Mecklenburg students will continue wearing masks, as they have since schools opened Aug. 25.

North Carolina updated its rules for COVID-19 control in schools again Friday. The latest changes will reduce the amount of time staff and students have to stay out of school, even as the omicron variant surges through communities.

The update includes two new pages of procedures for handling COVID-19 tests, symptoms and exposure (find them on pages 15-16 of this document).

State health officials say protecting in-person learning is a high priority, and the new rules reflect updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Research and lived experience in this pandemic have shown it is essential we do everything we can to safely keep our students in the classroom," said Chief Deputy Health Secretary Susan Gale Perry in a statement. "In-person learning is more than academics. It’s also children interacting with their peers, getting healthy meals and accessing critical support services."

Among the latest provisions: People who test positive but show no symptoms can return after five days, or even sooner if there’s a follow-up that indicates a false positive. People with symptoms can return after five days if they’re getting better and not running a fever.

Asymptomatic staff and students can avoid quarantine after exposure if they’re fully vaccinated or had COVID-19 within the last 90 days or if both parties were wearing masks while near each other.

In schools where masks are required, there’s a “Test to Stay” provision. It allows people to stay in school if they were exposed during a mask-off time, such as a lunch break, as long as they’re tested immediately and after five days.

The new rules arrive as students are returning from winter break and COVID-19 metrics are spiking across the state. The state also updated its rules last week to shorten quarantine times.

Copyright 2022 WFAE

Ann Doss Helms covers education for WFAE. She was a reporter for The Charlotte Observer for 32 years, including 16 years on the education beat. She has repeatedly won first place in education reporting from the North Carolina Press Association and won the 2015 Associated Press Senator Sam Open Government Award for reporting on charter school salaries.