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Parents, staff, students speak out at Union County Board of Commissioners meeting after school district contact tracing decision

County commissioners discussed state health recommendations related to the COVID-19 pandemic and heard from concerned parents too.

MONROE, N.C. — Hours after the Union County Schools Board of Education announced they would stop staff responsibility for COVID-19 contact tracing, and permit some of the quarantined students and staff to return to schools immediately, the county's Board of Commissioners announced an emergency meeting for Monday night.

During a public comment section in the meeting, some community members expressed support for the board of education's contact tracing decision. 

“We are free-thinking intelligent citizens -- leave our kids alone," Union County parent Kath Powers said. "To the county if you want to quarantine then issue quarantine orders as defined by the law and be prepared to back yourself up in court.”

During the meeting, commissioners also received a virtual COVID-19 metrics update by Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, North Carolina's State Health Director and the Chief Medical Officer for the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS).

These COVID-19 guidelines were the focus of a Friday letter sent to the Board of Education by Union County Public Health Director Dennis Joyner. In his letter, Joyner suggests the Board of Education adopts all state guidelines, including masking.

RELATED: In letter to Board of Education, Union County health director encourages state recommendations on masks, vaccines

Union County is one of five remaining North Carolina public school districts not requiring masks.

Eleventh-grade UCPS student Sydney promptly started a new online petition asking that contract tracing and masks return to the district.

“The mall has a mask mandate and I feel safer there than at school and it should be the other way around," Sydney said. “I don’t want to switch to virtual school either because that would mean less clubs, less theater, and other fun stuff school has to offer.”

For the week ending Sept. 11, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said Union County had the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state for children under the age of 18.

RELATED: Union County schools vote to immediately end contact tracing and quarantine for non-positive students and staff

In lieu of masks, Joyner Friday recommended acceptance of the state's full, 14 day quarantine period.

The debate on both sides of the argument led to some mixed reactions.

“Our goal for public health, we also have to balance that with our defense of individual rights," Union County Commissioner David Wilson said.

Monday's decision by the Board of Education reduced the number of students and staff needing to quarantine by allowing anyone without a positive test, and anyone who is asymptotic, to return to school immediately. 

Someone who is asymptotic can still spread COVID-19 to others.