Rockland County public school students and staff can get out of COVID quarantine after five days, local school district officials announced. The move came after the county health department shortened the quarantine period for people exposed to COVID.
The guidelines generally follow recent updates by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York State Department of Health.
"Implementing this quarantine reduction from 10 days to five days will allow students and staff to return more quickly after an exposure to COVID-19," said Pearl River Superintendent Marco Pochintesta. Similar notifications were sent by the county's other superintendents.
But the districts say they still aren't allowing "test to stay" – which would allow people exposed to COVID but are asymptomatic to keep on testing to remain in school.
Late Friday, the county's health department announced an updated "test to stay" plan that would allow students exposed to COVID to remain in school if the district followed certain rules.
Rockland health department's "test to stay" criteria includes getting permission to test a a student every day for "a series of days," with the COVID tests done at school by people designated to test and report results. "This will require schools to obtain a limited-service laboratory certificate or contract with an appropriate provider," a statement by Rockland Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert said.
School officials had said state and county "test to stay" restrictions, even with recent updates, were too difficult to meet.
The new school quarantine policy applies to students and employees regardless of vaccination status. Prior to the change, COVID isolation lasted a minimum of 10 days.
Schools say anyone returning after a five-day isolation period must:
have no fever for at least 24 hours, unmedicated;
have a resolution or reduction of symptoms; and
wear an appropriate well-fitting face covering for the next five days at all times – both indoors and outdoors – throughout the school day.
Schools based their changes on the Rockland health department's Jan. 5 quarantine update that cuts quarantines to five days for people with COVID.
COVID exposed rule change too
For those exposed to COVID, the county advises fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask when they are around people for 10 days after exposure. But they can skip quarantine.
Those exposed to COVID and are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated are supposed to quarantine for five days and then wear a mask around other people for the following five days.
Anyone who is exposed to COVID and then develops symptoms should quarantine and seek a test.
Swamped with COVID cases: Rockland offers do-it-yourself COVID isolation orders
COVID shots: New York mandates boosters for healthcare workers
People who are immunocompromised or who live in congregant settings should continue following the 10-day isolation guidance, according to the county health department, for either exposure or a confirmed COVID case.
'Test to stay'
Meanwhile local districts had said they weren't able to adopt a state "test to stay" policy that Gov. Kathy Hochul has encouraged and has been adopted by some districts in the region.
Rockland BOCES Superintendent Sarah Chauncey, in a letter to staff and families, said Rockland's "complex requirements" in its test-to-stay policy "make it impossible to implement with fidelity across our school community."
Under the policy, people exposed to COVID can stay in school if they take a series of COVID tests that show negative results for the virus.
The Rockland County Department of Health has said that home tests cannot be used, citing reliability. The updated policy released Friday reiterated that testing has to be done by designated people, but does not specify what type of test should be used.
While the state allows home tests for test-to-stay, its guidance says that local health officials must have a way to ensure the tests are administered correctly and on the right person.
The state has provided thousands of antigen home test kits to Rockland. County Executive Ed Day had said those kits were distributed to school districts, or sent to BOCES for distribution to schools.
Meanwhile, residents have been asking the county to distribute home tests directly to the public amid a shortage of pharmacy shelves and lines at testing centers and clinics.
The state's test-to-stay police, last updated Dec. 23, still bans students undergoing testing from activities that take place outside of school hours. That includes athletics or extracurricular activities like clubs. Rockland health department reiterated such restrictions would continue for any district opting into "test to stay."
The state's updated "test to stay" policy, though, creates a pattern of three tests during a 7-day period after COVID exposure, rather than daily.
Rockland schools could test similar to the state's pattern, Ruppert said Friday, but daily testing was encouraged. "While daily testing is ideal in the situation of the current surge, it may be difficult."
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: COVID quarantine in Rockland schools cut to 5 days but no test to stay