- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday updated its quarantine guidance for K-12 schools, reiterating recommendations that those unvaccinated who come into close contact with someone with COVID-19 should immediately quarantine for 14 days unless instructed otherwise by a school official.
- The agency also advises that vaccinated individuals who are close contacts of people diagnosed with COVID-19 don't need to quarantine, but they should be tested 3-5 days following known exposure and continue to wear a mask indoors for the following 14 days.
- According to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which is keeping track of COVID-19 responses in the nation's 100 largest school systems, many districts nationwide have shortened quarantine periods and clarified protocols since the start of the school year.
For the 2021-22 school year, the CDC and White House have maintained that full-time, in-person learning should be a priority for schools after a year spent in remote and hybrid learning models due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But trying to start a more "normal" school year amid the ongoing public health crisis has proven more challenging than anticipated as states and school districts attempt to balance a variety of school COVID-19 safety protocols.
The previous round of CDC quarantine guidance followed on the heels of recommendations issued in late July for universal masking in schools for all individuals 2 and older, regardless of vaccination status. These moves come as the highly contagious delta variant, plateauing vaccination rates, and the lack of a vaccine for elementary age children continue to pose a struggle for the nation's recovery efforts.
Among the states and large school systems that have recently updated quarantine guidance are Florida, Arkansas and New York City.
In Florida, new state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo announced last week the state would allow parents to decide whether their children quarantine following COVID-19 exposure, WGFL reports. As with the state's school mask mandate ban, districts like Alachua County have announced they will not follow suit.
Mask mandate bans have been a point of contention between policymakers and school districts in Texas and several other states, leading the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to open investigations over potential civil rights violations. The Biden administration also announced Project SAFE grants last month to support school districts facing penalties from state officials for maintaining mask policies and other COVID-19 safety measures despite such bans.
In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced this week that schools with a 70% vaccination rate would not have to require students or staff to quarantine, with that 70% also including students not yet eligible to get the vaccine, KFSM-TV reports. The move is hoped to help improve vaccination rates, particularly once a vaccine for younger students is available.
Hutchinson in August also asked state legislators to amend a law he signed several months ago banning mask mandates to instead allow localities flexibility to implement masking rules,
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also recently announced changes to school quarantine protocols, calling only for students spending time within 3 feet of an infected classmate or nearby when one or more is unmasked to quarantine, the New York Daily News reports. Educators have called the policy into question, noting the particular difficulty of enforcing an amorphous set of guidelines with younger students when compared to the more defined prior rule — that any unvaccinated student sharing a classroom with an infected student should isolate at home.
Nationwide, many districts' quarantine policies have also provided different timelines for those vaccinated and unvaccinated. “That, I think, is actually probably the biggest difference, which is just that you may find students getting different access to in-person instruction just based on their vaccinations,” Bree Dusseault, a CRPE researcher, told K-12 Dive in August. "It has a lot of implications for what students will experience back in school.”
Other COVID-19 safety protocols recommended for schools by CDC include:
Three feet of social distancing.
Diagnostic testing, including for vaccinated people who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
Upgrades to ventilation systems.
Handwashing and respiratory etiquette.