There have been 205 cumulative cases of COVID-19 reported to Chatham County Schools since Aug. 23, according to the district’s case dashboard, making up under 2% of the district’s total …
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There have been 205 cumulative cases of COVID-19 reported to Chatham County Schools since Aug. 23, according to the district’s case dashboard, making up under 2% of the district’s total population. There are 11 active cases.
CCS has only had one cluster — defined as five or more cases that are epidemiologically related within a 14-day window — at Chatham Central High School, reported during the second week of classes. A second cluster at Northwood was included in the state health department’s child care and school settings report two weeks ago, but it was later deemed to be erroneous and removed.
After a few months of rising cases of COVID-19 among young people in the state and county, the low number of clusters — and of associated cases — at CCS during that time suggests the safety mitigation strategies in place at the district are preventing community spread. The CCS Board of Education again voted to require universal masking on all its campuses at its Sept. 13 meeting, in accordance with state legislation requiring school boards to vote monthly on face mask requirements.
The board meets next Monday, Oct. 11, when it will presumably vote on the mandate again.
Most of North Carolina’s 115 school districts require face masks to be worn indoors, but as of Oct. 5, five have made masking optional. On Monday, the Harnett County school board affirmed their decision from last month to make masks optional, effective Tuesday.
“Masking is slowing the spread of COVID,” Chatham County Public Health Director Mike Zelek, who has repeatedly supported the district’s mask mandate, said at that meeting. “They not only slow the spread of COVID, they keep kids in the classroom.”
There haven’t been any clusters reported among the county’s public charter schools — Willow Oak Montessori, Woods Charter School and Chatham Charter School — in the state report. Each school also has an indoor mask mandate, and Woods and Chatham Charter have COVID-19 trackers on their websites.
At CCS, officials have stressed since before the start of the school year that universal indoor masking — done properly, with the right type of mask covering both a person’s mouth and nose — would play a huge role in allowing in-person classes and activities to continue.
“We’re confident that we can at least get school started — support our staff, give our teachers a safe place, give our kids as normal a place as possible,” Superintendent Anthony Jackson said of the district’s universal mask recommendation on Aug. 5, “with the exception of one thing: they will have to wear a face covering.”
The district updates its weekly case reports, including any clusters, on its website daily, and post finalized and archived reports by the end of the business day every Friday. Last year, the district reported minimal clusters, suggesting that cases present in school buildings were the result of community spread and not school spread. Health experts have long cited masking as an important mitigation strategy in preventing such school spread.
CCS’s reports will be posted at https://www.chatham.k12.nc.us/Page/23355. Here are the active case counts each week from the archived reports:
• Aug. 16-27: 56 cases
• Aug. 30-Sept. 5: 38 cases, 1 cluster
• Sept. 6-12: 31 cases
• Sept. 13-17: 28 cases
• Sept. 20-26: 26 cases
• Sept. 27-Oct. 3: 27 cases
Universal indoor masking “with fidelity” (the proper type of mask, worn over mouth and nose) is required at all the district’s campuses, regardless of vaccination status. As of now, masks are optional outdoors. Additionally, the district requires 3 feet of social distance.
Under new state guidance introduced this fall, schools no longer need to do symptom screenings for students and staff at the beginning of a school day. Disinfecting and cleaning processes — formed in conjunction with the Chatham County Public Health Department and the district’s supplier of custodial supplies — include daily cleaning of touch surfaces, cleaning of buses after morning and afternoon routes and frequent cleaning of main offices, reception areas and restrooms in schools.
State guidelines for quarantines say that if a student tests positive for COVID-19 but was masked, CCS will not enforce a two-week quarantine period for students potentially exposed to that student — so long as those students were also masked. If a student is determined to be a close contact, the quarantine period is 10 days. Vaccinated teachers don’t have to quarantine.
The district defines a close contact as someone “within 3 to 6 feet of an infected person and incorrect mask use.”
District officials have previously cited the state’s K-12 StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit as its primary guidance. Officials also consider recommendations from the CDC, Chatham County Public Health Department and Duke University’s ABC Science Collaborative in making decisions. So far, policies have followed such recommendations.
For more information, view the district’s coronavirus webpage at https://www.chatham.k12.nc.us/Page/22533.
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.