Abilene school district approves modification to COVID-19 quarantine protocols

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Jan. 13—The Unified School District 435 Board of Education discussed its COVID-19 protocols during a regular monthly meeting earlier this week.

This was in response to the Centers for Disease Control modifying several of its COVID-19 protocols, including isolation time from 10 days to five days after exposure to the virus.

USD 435 Superintendent Greg Brown talked about the district modifying its COVID-19 protocols to stay in line with CDC recommendations.

"It would appear that much of what's happening with COVID at this time is changing so quickly — this omicron variant, it spreads like wildfire," he said. "The relatively positive thing about that is, by and large — and I know there's always outliers — but by and large, the symptoms have not been as extreme and as dangerous as what we have seen with other variants and it appears that the omicron variant is providing a certain amount of immunity for the other variants that we have seen with COVID."

Brown said he believed the omicron variant could be the thing that put a stop to the pandemic, in time, but "we're not there yet."

Nurse Brandi McGivney said much of what the district approved last month in terms of COVID-19 protocols would remain the same, but the quarantine time for people exposed to the virus would be lowered to five days instead of 10 under certain circumstances.

"Instead of a person who has a household positive remaining home for that positive 10 days, they would now come back after five when their household positive would be released," McGivney said. "Now of course, if their household positive happened to be more ill and continued to have symptoms, they would stay home. If that person was still having a fever on day five so they couldn't come back until day six, that's when (the exposed person) could come back as well. And then they would begin the modified quarantine piece where they would wear the mask and test every morning with us for five days and as long as they tested negative, they would be able to remain in school under those modified quarantine guidelines."

She said the CDC's new guidelines for those who have been exposed to COVID-19, released at the end of December 2021, were complicated.

"But in a nutshell, if you are positive at home, you remain at home for five days," she said. "If you are asymptomatic or if your symptoms have improved by day five, then you are released to return into (the) public on day six out of that isolation. You would still have to wear a mask for days six through 10 and be aware if you recur having symptoms. But otherwise, you would be able to return."

McGivney went over the county's guidelines for COVID-19 exposures and said the only people exempted from quarantine entirely were people who are fully vaccinated to the extent possible against COVID-19.

"Fully vaccinated people, if exposed to a case of COVID-19 — whether in their home or outside — have to mask for 10 days after that exposure," she said. "If you are not fully vaccinated, you have to remain at home in quarantine for five days and then you can begin the modified quarantine in the school setting or return in the workplace setting."

This would apply to both students and staff, McGivney said.

Also new is that they are only allowed a 90 day grace period for people who have received COVID-19 diagnoses. People who are unvaccinated and have had the virus are considered immune to it for 90 days after their diagnosis and after that time they fall back into the category of 'unvaccinated.'

"Previously, we had been given unlimited time for that for antibodies and that is no longer," McGivney said.

On the subject of masking, board member Jennifer Waite said she had heard that cloth masks were "basically useless against the omicron" variant.

"Why would we make the children wear them if they're basically useless?" she asked.

"It is recommended that you wear a medical grade mask because medical grade masks are obviously more (effective)," McGivney said. "That's what they're made for. So a cloth mask would not have the same ability to prevent transmission — and all cloth is not created equal, as we all know ... I've always personally worn a medical grade mask."

Waite asked how many district students had the ability to purchase medical grade masks and McGivney said it was likely that medical grade masks such as n95s would be readily available in stores. McGivney said the choice to wear a medical grade mask or a cloth one would be down to individuals' personal preference, because she has not received any guidance from the Dickinson County Health Department to indicate otherwise.

Board member Megan Armstrong said she felt a full-sized medical grade mask on a child would be ineffective.

"You've created a barrier to their face, but I don't know that you've created a true barrier to prevent contracting omicron ... It's just, they don't fit very well for the kids, even when they're medical grade," Armstrong said.

Pediatric medical grade masks are available, but harder to find than adult ones, McGivney said.

When asked about testing by board President Chris West, McGivney said the district had plenty of COVID-19 tests on hand.

"I have probably 400 tests that I have within my possession right now," she said.

Member Jeff Bathurst asked what might happen if a serious COVID-19 outbreak took place and if that might lead to the schools shutting down.

McGivney said it was possible but that as long as there were enough staff members well enough to continue operating the schools, it would be preferable to keep the schools running even if a number of students were out sick. She said that, prior to COVID-19, the district had never called off school for illness.

The board voted unanimously to approve the modifications to its quarantine protocols.

District COVID-19 statistics

According to McGivney, there were at least nine total positive cases of COVID-19 in the district as of 3 p.m. Monday afternoon, including students and staff. There are 20 district people in some form of quarantine — including modified quarantine — in the district.

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