NC's largest school district drops daily symptom screenings

NC Dept. of Health and Human Services stopped requiring symptom screening in March, finally aligning with the CDC guidance for K-12 schools

North Carolina’s largest school district has dropped daily symptom screening for students, all of which now have the option of five-day-a-week in-person instruction.

Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) alerted families on April 6 that the daily health screenings would be ending.

“While the goal of our previous screening program was also to keep those infected from being on campus, our data and the guidance from health officials showed the practice could be improved. The CDC never recommended screenings and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services no longer requires it,” the WCPSS update reads in part.

WCPSS and all other districts in the state have been required to follow the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) StrongSchools Toolkit, which required symptom screening for in-person instruction. That guidance was changed on March 24 to recommend that "daily symptom screenings can be considered for adults and are not recommended for children.”

WCPSS is correct in stating that the CDC has never required daily symptom screening of K-12 students. The CDC’s symptom screening guidance has always been ‘monitor your symptoms’ and stay home if you’re sick.

The CDC has said that studies have shown daily health check screening of children is ineffective and

In March, NCDHHS officials told the N.C. State Board of Education that they continuing and expanding their COVID-19 rapid testing pilot program on K-12 campuses. Funding for the tests comes from federal and state sources.

Dr. Aditi Mallick, director of the COVID-19 Operations Center, told board members there were 53,000 tests sent to the 200 schools in 17 districts and 11 charter schools that took part in the pilot that began last year.

“We will be expanding access to COVID-19 testing on an opt-in basis to add a layer of protection,” Mallick said as the reason behind the expansion.

Data received on April 1 shows that 63,255 tests have been conducted with the bulk of them, 55,000, conducted in public schools.

At the most recent N.C. State Board of Education meeting held just this past week, NCDHHS State Health Director and Chief Medical officer Dr. Betsey Tilson foreshadowed a possible vaccination scenario for middle and high school students. She told the board she believes those students will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine before the start of the next school year.

Tilson’s presentation included information about vaccination trials that include children starting as young as six months old through age fifteen:

NCDHHS’ presentation to the board said that there are “45 currently active clusters” which is approximately a “30% decline from last month.”

The presentation also touched on expanding the testing pilot in schools and said that “Evidence from national studies found that weekly testing of all students, teachers and staff can reduce in-school infections by an estimated 50%.”

As for vaccination of educational staff, NCDHHS reported that 76,189 frontline essential workers in K-12 schools or child care centers have received a vaccine dose since Feb. 24.