Develop isolation and tracking rules spread across the map for students

At this stage of the pandemic, most parents are familiar with “COVID notification” letters. However, the instructions in the letter regarding whether your child must be quarantined vary from school to school.

In Minneapolis, students exposed to COVID-19 at school should be quarantined for 10 days. In the suburban Anoka-Hennepin school district, a contact does not trigger contact tracing or isolation.

In Andover, Kansas, the school follows the quarantine protocol established by the county health department. Because students from different counties attend the same school, students sitting side by side in the classroom can be isolated according to two sets of rules.

In many schools in Anchorage and Texas, close contacts of classmates who have tested positive for COVID can choose to stay in class or quarantine. In suburban Chicago, siblings of students with any symptoms of COVID must be quarantined until their siblings test negative.

The number and complexity of school quarantine policies—in Fort Mill, South Carolina, where there are eight pages of guidance on when students should be quarantined—makes many parents feel that it is unreasonable to isolate a child instead of a classmate. Sometimes, the rules within the family seem to be different: the son of Christina Kennedy, a teacher in Bend, Oregon, received a call in August when he was exposed to a positive case, and he was asked to quarantine. However, when her daughter was in close contact with the positive case, she did not receive any calls.

Dr. Leana Wen, professor of public health at George Washington University, said: “Unfortunately, in terms of school reopening, we conducted a natural experiment nationwide, especially in terms of isolation.” “Some of it is understandable. But when it comes to various methods, there must be a piecemeal method.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines call for unvaccinated children who come into contact with people who have tested positive for COVID to be quarantined within a certain time period locally. However, the decision of a state or county or school district to impose quarantine requirements is arbitrary. Ed300, an informal coalition that promotes face-to-face learning, found that 31 states did not automatically isolate students from close contacts.

David Law, the head of the Anoka-Hennepin School in Minnesota, said: “What we have learned from this pandemic is that when there are no instructions, the school district will act on its own, and you will get this kind of result-good, bad or other. .”Area.

Law pointed out that the schools in his state operate independently.

This is also true in many other fields. “The principal and county health officials have a lot of leeway,” said Leslie Bienen, a parent who participated in the Ed300 and a faculty member of the Oregon Health and Science University-Portland State University School of Public Health.

“Isolation may be 7 or 14 days,” Binen said. Local officials have a lot of say in determining who is eligible to be a close contact—the CDC defines this as being within 6 feet of someone, with a cumulative total of at least 24. 15 minutes within an hour. But the agency also recommends that schools maintain a distance of at least 3 feet between students.

Local control is not necessarily a bad thing—schools should be the ones who set the rules, Wen said—but that’s why the situation in one school looks so different from another, no matter how close they are.

Kennedy, a teacher in Bend, Oregon, works in a private school, while her husband teaches in the public school where her children are attending.

“Compared with public schools, private schools are easier to close the entire classroom,” Kennedy said. “I know that since September, all three classrooms in my private school have been closed”, while the zero classroom in the public system has been closed.

She pointed out that areas in the same county are handled differently within the scope of the same public health official’s authority. “Nothing is consistent. They say it’s all based on science, but we can’t question or point out anything. Why is this here and there? As parents and teachers, it’s very frustrating,” Kennedy said.

Another common complaint is that depending on whether students are in school or participating in extracurricular activities, or whether they are participating in community activities or sports events, policies will vary. “What really annoys our community is that you can participate in school community activities or participate in sports events for four hours without anyone being quarantined, but you can sit next to someone for 40 minutes during school and then go out to school for 10 days,” Law said.

This confusion makes many parents wonder whether policymakers have done their homework.

Jessica Butler Bell, vice president of PTA communications at Webster Elementary School in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, California, said parents are asking: “Do we really follow science? Or are we too careful? It must Rooted in logic, I think people will ask,’Did you think about it clearly?'”

Bienen co-authored a review article in The Wall Street Journal titled “Isolating school children is crazy”. The cited research shows that due to school contact, only a small part of the quarantined students eventually tested positive for COVID. The organization also said that data from Portland Public Schools shows that students attending Title I schools—those schools that receive special federal funding for serving a large number of low-income families—are more likely to be quarantined.

Kennedy pointed out: “Children with financial means will go on vacation or go to their grandparents when they are quarantined.” “It’s good for them, but what about children who don’t have parents at home? They sit at home and don’t study. No food, no service. This exacerbates inequality.”

However, when there are no rules, parents are equally disturbed: Wen said that she has heard that parents conduct their own informal contact tracing when they think the school is not doing a thorough job.

Complex policies have other effects. Kennedy said that some parents were initially reluctant to test their children because they feared that a positive test would force them to drop out of school or participate in activities. She added that in some schools, teachers postponed the distribution of seating charts to school nurses or other public health officials for contact tracing because they knew that children might need to be isolated after sharing information.

Some schools are experimenting with a possible solution: replacing segregation with a “test stay” policy. According to this policy, any student who is considered a close contact can take a quick test and show a negative result in order to stay in school and avoid isolation.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky recently pointed out, “We are working with states to evaluate a retention test policy as a promising potential new school strategy. We anticipate that there will be Guidelines are issued.”

Wen said she is optimistic that this policy may help. “This is a way to prevent children from dropping out of school.”

In Santa Monica-Malibu, one of the frustrations Butler Bell heard from his parents was that there was no plan to end quarantine and other layers of protection.

Kennedy said that parents often feel that their concerns are not taken into account. “if [decision-makers] In the actual classroom for an hour, they will make different decisions,” she said.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that provides in-depth news reports on health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating projects of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a funded non-profit organization that provides information about health issues across the country.

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