On Friday, Jan. 7, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) put out a press release stating that it was “adding another tool to help keep state students in the classroom” – a Test-to-Stay strategy.

Under the Test-to-Stay plan for battling COVID-19, once a case of a COVID-19 infection is identified at a school, the next step is testing – rather than jumping to a mass quarantine policy for everyone who’s come near the infected student, teacher or administrator.

The strategy has been popular in many parts of the country because it’s easier on parents – especially working parents – who’ve often been overwhelmed with remote schooling during the pandemic.  Under Test-to-Stay, those students who continue to pass a series of coronavirus tests can keep attending school in person and interact with their classmates at safe distances.

According to the NCDHHS, “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.”

  The department has now included these findings in the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit – which is meant to help schools address the pandemic.

The statement adds, “With the addition of a Test-to-Stay option, the list of scenarios for remaining in the classroom is expanded to include unmasked exposures (e.g., when students are eating lunch). This Test-to-Stay option only applies to K-12 school settings that require masks, which data has shown limits the risk of transmission.”

 As part of Test-to-Stay, the person exposed to COVID-19 should take the following actions:

  • Get tested the day they’re notified of an exposure.
  • Get tested again five days later – or as close to five days as possible.
  • Wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure.
  • Other than attending school, stay home and avoid others.

NC Health Director and NCDHHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson said this is just one part of an overall strategy that includes screening testing, ventilation, handwashing – and staying home when you’re sick.

“Protecting our students and staff requires layers of protection to stop the spread of COVID-19. In addition to vaccines and masks, Test-to-Stay is another proven tool that can help minimize the spread of COVID-19 while also maximizing time in the classroom.”

The Test-to-Stay gameplan requires everyone age two and older to wear a mask inside schools and facilities and keep at least three feet of distance between students,