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New DHHS guidance changes COVID-19 recommendations for schools

Update Feb. 11, 2022, 1:25 p.m.: In a press release today, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said that as soon as lawmakers are done with redistricting, “we will be advancing legislation in the House to give parents the ability to opt-out of mask requirement.”

Currently, masking decisions are up to individual districts. See original story below.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) made big changes today to school COVID-19 guidelines, which will mean fewer missed school days for students.

The updated Strong SchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit eliminates contact tracing and the practice of keeping asymptomatic people out of school after exposure to COVID-19, assuming they haven’t tested positive.

“We are committed to ensuring North Carolinians have the guidance and information necessary to balance their risk during each stage of the pandemic and learn to live with COVID-19,” said DHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley in a press release.

“Keeping kids in the classroom remains a top priority. As we have done throughout the pandemic, we evaluate which tools are most effective to protect students and staff,” he said. “This is the right approach for this point in the pandemic and includes flexibility for local schools and health departments to use data to make informed decisions and respond to local conditions.”

The change comes the same day that House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, sent a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper asking him to “repeal the guidelines that force healthy kids to stay home and effectively mandate masks in schools.”

The updated guidance from DHHS recommends that masks be worn inside by all people age 2 and older “in areas of high or substantial transmission, as defined by the CDC.”

According to the state’s dashboard, as of Feb. 9, over 3,600 people are hospitalized with COVID-19.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.