Dare County, NC: Public Health Guidance on School Closures
The Dare County Department of Health & Human Services has been receiving calls and questions from the general public regarding guidance related to school closures. Dare County is following guidance from North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services. This guidance does not recommend pre-emptive school closure at this time but does recommend that schools and childcare centers cancel or reduce large events and gatherings (e.g. assemblies) and field trips, limit inter-school interactions, and consider distance or e-learning in some settings. Students at high risk should implement individual plans for distance or e-learning. School dismissals may be necessary when staff or student absenteeism impacts the ability to remain open. Short-term closures may also be necessary to facilitate public health investigation and/or cleaning if a case is diagnosed in a student or staff member.
The public health considerations for school closures are as follows:
There is a role for school closures in response to school-based cases of COVID-19:
- For decontamination and contact tracing (few days of closure)
- In response to significant absenteeism of staff and students (short to medium length, i.e., 2–4 weeks of closure)
- As part of a larger community mitigation strategy for jurisdictions with substantial community spread (medium to long length, i.e., 4–8 weeks or more of closure)
Research indicates that short- to medium-length closures early in the outbreak will not impact the spread of COVID-19 or health care measures (e.g., hospitalizations). There may be some impact of much longer closures (8 or more weeks) further into the outbreak when there is more community spread.
The previously mentioned research does show other mitigation efforts (e.g., handwashing, home isolation) have more impact on both the spread of disease and health care measures.
In other countries, places that closed schools (e.g., Hong Kong) have not had more success in reducing spread than those that did not (e.g., Singapore).
In places where school closures are necessary, the anticipated academic and economic impacts and unintended impacts on disease outcomes must be planned for and mitigated. All of the following must be addressed:
- Provision of academic support (e.g., tele-ed)
- Alternatives for school-based meals and other services (e.g., behavioral and mental health services) for economically and physically vulnerable children
- Support for families for whom telework and paid sick leave is not available
- Continued protection for high risk individuals
- Special consideration must be given for healthcare workers so that school closures do not impact their ability to work.
Dare County Schools continues to be proactive in their decision making regarding the situation around COVID-19. The health and safety of all students, staff, and parents remains their first priority. Superintendent Farrelly and the Board of Education are working closely in conjunction with Dare County Department of Health & Human Services, as well as other local, state and federal agencies to make the appropriate decisions regarding the safety of our schools and community.
For regularly updated information on COVID-19 in Dare County and information about how to protect yourself, your family and our community, please visit www.darenc.com/covid19 or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website www.CDC.gov.