When should schools quarantine students?



As the delta variant spreads, students across the country have seen the start of the school year disrupted by quarantines.

School policies on when and if a student should self-quarantine after exposure to COVID in the classroom, however, are constantly evolving. Notably, many do not align with the approach recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which adjusted its guidelines this summer to exempt students who have been vaccinated and, in some cases, masked.

Maybe it’s because the districts want a higher standard. But it can also reflect confusion about the orientation itself. Here’s a quick guide to advice from the CDC.

When should students quarantine?

First question: Has a student come into close contact – within six feet, for at least 15 minutes – with a student with COVID? The 15 minutes can be consecutive or take place over three five-minute blocks over the course of a day.

If so, what happens next depends on a few more factors. Is the exposed pupil vaccinated? If the student is fully immunized, they should be referred for testing, but do not need to self-quarantine.

If the student is not vaccinated, the next questions are how close they were to the infected peer, if both were masked, and if the exposure occurred in a classroom.

If the student was in a classroom, at least three feet from the infected student, and both students wore masks all the time, the exposed student does not have to self-quarantine. But if students were less than three feet apart in one classroom, less than six feet elsewhere in the school, Where either student has been unmasked, quarantine is required, the CDC says.

In other words, among masked students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 classes, the CDC recommends lowering the normal exposure threshold requiring a quarantine from six feet to three feet.

The CDC also recommends universal masking in schools. This combination of masking and quarantine guidelines, if adopted, could dramatically reduce the need to send students home for extended periods of time, thereby limiting academic disruption.

Finally, it is also possible for a student to be exposed to COVID by an adult. In this case, an unvaccinated student would be quarantined if they had approached within six feet of the infected adult for 15 minutes or more, regardless of the use of the mask.

When should teachers and staff quarantine themselves?

Quarantine recommendations are similar for school staff and students. Vaccinated adults are not quarantined after exposure, according to the CDC.

One important difference: the three-foot classroom exception for students does not apply to adults. This means unvaccinated adults in schools, masked or not, must self-quarantine whenever they are within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more.

How long should a quarantine last?

The CDC suggests three options for the length of the quarantine: 14, 10, or seven calendar days after exposure.

The CDC describes 14 days as its basic recommendation and the other two as “acceptable” alternatives that add some risk of transmission.

If a school takes the alternative approach, a quarantined person could return to class 10 days after being exposed as long as they had no symptoms of COVID. A student or staff member could return even sooner – seven days after exposure – if they test negative for COVID and have no symptoms.

What about students and staff who receive COVID?

Anyone with COVID should self-isolate at home and not come to school. An infected person should only return to school, according to the CDC, after 10 days have passed since their first symptoms and have gone 24 hours without a fever and their “other symptoms of COVID-19. ‘improve’.


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