Texas students returned to class this week, just as the highly contagious variant of omicron tore the state apart.
One in three Texans who pass COVID-19 tests receive positive results, foreshadowing what could be a large number of students – many of whom attend classes without a mask, in a large group – ultimately achieving the same results.
State health guidelines prohibit students and staff with confirmed cases of COVID from attending classes on campus. But exactly how long students should stay at home is not always clear.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened the recommended quarantine time at the end of last year, advising people with coronavirus to self-isolate for five days. If they are asymptomatic or their symptoms seem to subside, they can leave their quarantine after this period but must hide around others for the next five days.
On Thursday, the CDC echoed those recommendations in revamped health protocols for K-12 schools. The new directive advises people who are not fully vaccinated and exposed to someone with COVID to stay home and quarantine themselves from others for at least five days after close contact.
At least five days after close contact, people exposed without symptoms should be tested for coronavirus. If they are negative, they can leave their forties but must continue to wear a well-fitting mask around others. If they are positive, they must self-isolate for at least five more days from their positive test.
The CDC’s new school protocols now conflict with Texas health guidelines, which were based on previous CDC recommendations.
The Texas State Department of Health Services tells schools to exclude any child with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 from in-person classes for at least 10 days and until they have more fever if it is symptomatic.
Asymptomatic children who test positive should also stay home for at least 10 days after the day they are tested, DSHS officials recommend.
The Texas Department is revising its guidelines in light of the CDC’s update and is working with the Texas Education Agency, DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen said. A spokesperson for TEA did not respond to a request for comment on whether the agency was considering changing its guidelines.
Different school district policies add to the confusion.
Coppell ISD, for example, adopted the CDC update, telling families that district policy is to have individuals tested for a positive isolate for five days. Fort Worth ISD also updated its guidelines in January to advise anyone who tests positive, regardless of their immunization status, to stay home for five days when they test positive.
ISD Dallas has yet to announce any changes to its quarantine policy, which follows state guidelines.
In early January, school officials in Plano asked families to “follow all isolation and quarantine guidelines from the local health authority or their doctor.”
So how long should families keep their children at home after a COVID alert?
Dr Seth Kaplan, former president of the Texas Pediatric Society, said the CDC’s new quarantine guidelines should be viewed with caution.
For example, the rules apply differently if people are vaccinated. In addition, children should wear a properly fitted mask if they come out of their 40s five days after exposure. Masks are not required at most schools in Texas, as Gov. Greg Abbott has banned such warrants by executive order.
If a family decides to follow the CDC’s updated guidelines for shortened quarantine, they should also follow the mask-wearing guidelines, he stressed.
“If your test is negative on the fifth day and you are ready to wear a mask, then the return seems reasonable,” Kaplan said.
The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and conversation on pressing education issues critical to the future of North Texas.
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