Schools are shortening the quarantine period for those affected by COVID and allowing students to avoid school exclusion through testing. This comes after county and state governments recently gave the green light to exposure rules that aim at keeping kids and staff in class.
The move came after the state endorsed a five-day isolation period on Jan. 10, down from 10, for students and staff who test positive for COVID. Meanwhile, most schools in Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties are opting in to test-to-stay programs to keep unvaccinated students from having to quarantine.
A month ago, Orange and Sullivan had said they would opt out of the test-to-stay rules, in part because the requirements are too difficult to meet. But they have now reversed course and implemented the approach to ensure schools remain open through this round of virus surge.
“The guidance we have been receiving has changed rapidly, often from day to day and sometimes even from hour to hour. What has not changed is that we remain committed to keeping schools open for in-person instruction,” read an announcement by Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery School District.
Under the test-to-stay policy, vaccinated and asymptomatic individuals can continue to attend school if they are exposed in school. For the unvaccinated and asymptomatic, they may continue to attend school as long as they tested negative and remain asymptomatic, but not participate in extracurricular or after-school activities. Schools offer options of quarantine or test-to-stay. If test-to-stay is selected, participants are required to complete up to three COVID tests during the five-day period following exposure.
While some schools require rapid antigen tests to be administered by school nurses prior to the beginning of the day, others accept self-administered tests with home kits.
Nancy McGraw, Sullivan County Public Health director, said school districts are in various stages of planning and implementation of the new rules largely depending on resources in schools — specifically supplies and staffing.
“The county has provided them with some test kits as well as the state, at least to implement and get started. What we don’t know about is future shipment of test kits for schools from the state though. They were told that would be forthcoming, we just don’t have the details,” said McGraw.
The Goshen School District posted on its website that the state has committed to supplying districts with testing kits and the district has received about 3,000 kits that will be used for test-to-stay at this time.
As test-to-stay would require intensive testing, some schools have no current plans to opt in. Eldred School District is among them, citing limited supply and staff.
Meanwhile, some parents are pushing back against the new rules due to concerns about this wave of surge. Rebecca Gentes, a Middletown parent, said she is concerned the shortened quarantine period would put some students at risk, especially those with weakened immune systems. She also questioned a quarantine exception for people who tested positive in the past 90 days.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted the new isolation period rules do not apply to people with immunocompromised systems and it recommends at least 10 and up to 20 days for that group.
“If the teachers and students are going back to school after five days, they will still be around those immunocompromised children prior to what the CDC recommends. These students are in school and at risk, " Gentes, the Middletown parent, said.
McGraw, Sullivan County's public health director, noted that people who have tested positive within the past 90 days have developed antibodies to the virus and their next test result could continue to appear as positive even though they are no longer symptomatic or contagious.
Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman said her office hears from parents on all sides of the new state mandates and the fact is viral transmission at any place of mass gathering is very high.
“The state needs to continue to monitor the science as they make policy recommendations and decisions for schools and the public in general,” said Gelman.
This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: Schools shorten quarantine period to 5 days