North Carolina health officials report three more schools in Mecklenburg County have clusters of COVID-19 cases.
While Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools data show 382 new infections among students were reported last week, in most cases there were no subsequent outbreaks and most CMS schools have few people who have been forced to quarantine. CMS requires everyone in school buildings to wear a mask to reduce the transmission of the virus.
New clusters were reported at a Movement Charter School (site location not disclosed), at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology (a CMS magnet school), and at Mallard Creek High. At Movement, the only reported cases include those among teachers or staff, according to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services data. At the two CMS schools, fewer than 10 students have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last week.
Previously reported clusters in local schools appear to have slowed in most cases, based on data the DHHS released Tuesday. At Ardrey Kell High, 18 cases were reported among students in the first two weeks of school. Last week, there were five new cases. At Independence High, there were six reported in the first two weeks and six new cases reported in the third week.
CMS publicly reports the number of new cases among students and staff on a weekly basis, along with other COVID-19 data.
Last week, there were 65 new cases among CMS staff — down from 80 staff cases reported in the second week of school. Also last week, 382 students reported positive — the exact same number reported the week prior. CMS officials confirmed there have been a total of 764 known cases among students over the last two weeks, which is less than 1% of all students.
Nearly every school has seen at least one case of COVID-19 since CMS started class Aug. 25.
While CMS offers a virtual academy for many grade levels, the majority of public school students are back to in-person learning more consistently than ever during the pandemic.
During the school board’s meeting Tuesday night, board members voted to grant Superintendent Earnest Winston authority to temporarily close schools for COVID-related reasons. That could happen if schools have too many people in quarantine or lack staffing. So far, that hasn’t been needed at CMS.
“Keeping schools safe for in-person learning remains our top priority – and COVID isn’t over,” said Elyse Dashew, board chair. “As much as we all yearn for a return to ‘normal,’ the metrics measuring this pandemic continue to be a source of concern. In order to protect students and staff, we must maintain universal masking, and we must give Superintendent Earnest Winston the flexibility to pivot quickly if COVID hits a school or part of a school.”
How schools report COVID cases
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ return-to-classrooms safety plan includes telling parents and guardians about any positive COVID-19 case they know about in their child’s school. That doesn’t always mean there’s an active outbreak and it doesn’t always mean your child was exposed to someone sick at school.
Aside from school-wide notification (which is often sent electronically by principals as a letter from county health department leaders), a separate notification will be given to any family of a child or to a staff member of officials believe they were likely exposed at school.
The process typically begins with a health care provider or COVID-19 testing provider notifying the local health department of recent positive test results. This notification is based on a person’s home county, meaning if a Charlotte resident takes a test away from home and the result is positive, Mecklenburg County officials are supposed to be notified.
Contact tracing and case investigation — the process of determining who might have been exposed, where the exposure happened and for how long, and then notifying individuals who may need to quarantine or be tested — will vary in effectiveness. For cases known in CMS, it’s a joint function of school officials and health officials to provide these notifications. There are times when a person who might have been exposed cannot be reached, or the identity of those exposed is not known.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools updates weekly a public dashboard that shows how many new cases were detected among students and staff, and how many people were instructed to quarantine, among other data. The county health department updates weekly its data on active local outbreaks and clusters. And the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services identifies clusters of cases in daycares and schools every Tuesday.
A school that reports multiple cases of COVID-19 isn’t automatically classified as having an outbreak or cluster. Generally, North Carolina health monitoring guidelines consider a site to have a cluster if five or more people over a two-week period have tested positive — and it appears the cases are linked or that transmission occurred among those individuals.