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NCDHHS issues new school COVID-19 safety guidance aimed at keeping students in classrooms

State health leaders urge K-12 schools to promote vaccination and boosters, and require students and staff to wear masks indoors.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — State health officials have released new COVID-19 health recommendations for K-12 schools as COVID-19 cases surge with the spread of the omicron variant.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services urges K-12 schools to promote vaccination and boosters, and require students and staff to wear masks indoors to keep students in the classroom and limit the risk of COVID-19 spread.

"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 NCDHHS Chief Deputy Secretary Susan Gale Perry. "In-person learning is more than academics, it’s also children interacting with their peers, getting healthy meals and accessing critical support services."

State health leaders said requiring masks in schools reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission. 

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State health officials said excluding a student or staff member from school following a COVID-19 exposure should be a last resort.

Officials released the following new guidelines:

A K-12 student or staff member who has been in close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19 — and has not themselves developed symptoms or tested positive — can still attend school if:

  • The person exposed has had their COVID-19 vaccinations. For adults, this includes boosters.
  • The person exposed has had a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the last 90 days.
  • The person exposed and the person with a confirmed case of COVID-19 were both properly wearing masks when the exposure occurred.

NCDHHS is adding another tool to help keep students in the classroom. Recent data released by the ABC Science Collaborative showed that Test-to-Stay can be an effective strategy for further reducing absences and lowering the risk of further transmission of COVID-19 in schools where masks are required. NCDHHS has incorporated these findings into the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit.

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