U.S. health officials approve “test-to-stay” policies that allow close contacts of students infected with the coronavirus to remain in classrooms if they are negative, a step that could virtually eliminate the need to disrupt the education while offering virus protection.
In Los Angeles Unified alone, more than 2,000 students will go into quarantine in a typical week due to close contact with someone who tests positive for the coronavirus. Some families have gone through the ordeal several times. A quarantine can last up to 10 days. The country’s second-largest school district recently announced that it plans to adjust quarantine policies, which will closely match CDC recommendations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to take the test-to-stay approach more firmly, already in use in many school districts, after research into such policies in the Chicago and Los Angeles areas found that coronavirus infections did not increase when using the strategy. Testing to stay means that students exposed to the infection can stay in school as long as they have no symptoms and tests show negative results.
“The test to stay is an encouraging public health practice to help keep our children in school,” CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky said on Friday.
CDC’s full approval of the test to stay marks the direction of many California and local school officials were heading towards or had already adopted. Los Angeles Board of Education President Kelly Gonez said the CDC’s guidelines were fully aligned with the approach envisioned by the district.
“The CDC’s recommendations are in line with our plans for the coming semester,” Gonez said. “These measures will allow more students to learn in school, so that they do not miss critical instruction time.” The CDC’s announcement provides further evidence that a modified quarantine, given additional security protocols, is a secure alternative to home quarantine. “
The approach has also received approval from US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
“It is encouraging that the testing strategies for staying are proven to be effective both in limiting the transmission of the virus and in ensuring that students can continue to learn in school, so that classrooms or Entire schools don’t have to close when a case of COVID-19 is discovered in the school community, ”Cardona said.
Official CDC guidelines previously recommended that when a person in a school tests positive for coronavirus infection, those considered to be in close contact should remain out of school, in home quarantine, for 10 days.
With Friday’s announcement, the CDC says the stay test and quarantine are equally good options. Testing to stay can incur significant costs for a school or school system as it means that a regular program of testing and monitoring should be in place.
Several states funded the stay test to prevent students from spending long periods away from campus.
Previously, the CDC had said the approach was promising, provided other measures such as masking for teachers and students were followed. The agency continues to support a multi-layered security approach. He worked with some school districts to evaluate the test to stay and published two studies that indicated support for the new guidelines.
One was in suburb of Lake County, Illinois, just north of Chicago, which adopted a program in August. Close contacts were allowed to remain in school, provided that the infected person and close contact were masked when exposure could have occurred, that the close contact did not show any symptoms, and that the close contact had been tested an , three, five and seven days after exposure to the infected person.
Infections developed in 16 of the more than 1,000 close contacts who were followed, a transmission rate of about 1.5%. Health officials deemed the strategy successful.
Similar results were reported in a study that looked at what happened in Los Angeles County schools this fall, looking at data from 78 school systems, including LA Unified, which has about a third of the county’s students. . The study period was from September 20 to October 31, 2021. About half of the school districts adopted the test to stay. LA Unified was not among them.
In Los Angeles County, researchers counted 7,511 close contacts of students at schools who tried to take the test to stay, with no worse results than schools with stricter quarantines. Schools without a test to stay likely lost at least 92,455 days of in-person instruction, the researchers concluded.
Students in the LA area who fell under test-to-stay protocols had restrictions, however. They had to wear masks indoors, outdoors and on school buses, get tested twice a week, and agree to quarantine themselves at home when not in school. Close contacts were unable to participate in extracurricular activities or before or after school daycare during the modified quarantine period. All students who have developed symptoms or tested positive should self-isolate at home as before.
“The testing strategy for staying in LA County public schools did not result in increased transmission during a significant transmission period when Delta was the predominant strain and significantly saved in-person school days,” the county health department said in response to questions. of the Times. “Implementing the strategy requires a lot of resources, which may currently be out of reach for some schools. “
Any school district in the county had the option of choosing the test to stay since September 20, county officials said, although most schools did not.
While LA School Board President Gonez is confident LA Unified will be in sync with the CDC, a statement from the district’s senior leadership was more cautious.
“Los Angeles Unified will continue to assess and monitor case and positivity rates within our school community,” the statement said. “We are prepared to adapt accordingly to help our students ensure the safest possible return for in-person learning. “
LA Unified will continue with its current protocols until January, said Anthony Aguilar, district chief for special education, equity and access. This means that all district staff and in-person students will take a test every week. Students exposed and vaccinated do not need to self-quarantine unless they show symptoms of illness. Exposed and unvaccinated students will have to quarantine themselves no matter what.
Starting in February, the district plans to adopt the county’s version of the Staying Testing Guidelines for students of all ages, whether or not they are vaccinated.
School quarantine rules have evolved at all levels during the pandemic as policy and scientific understanding of the virus have also evolved.
LA Unified has generally taken a more cautious approach to safety measures, including delaying the reopening of campuses until all employees have had a chance to be fully immunized. The district also instituted mandatory weekly testing for everyone on campus, whether or not they are vaccinated. And authorities have adopted vaccination mandates for all employees and for students aged 12 and over. The employee’s tenure has generally been applied with potential exemptions for medical reasons or sincere religious beliefs. The Education Council extended the deadline for students aged 12 and over this week to next fall.
Likewise, the district has adopted strict policies on school quarantines – which were particularly prevalent in LA Unified because the school system’s testing program could detect infections even when individuals had no symptoms of illness.
“Throughout the pandemic, advice from the CDC, public health authorities and other experts has evolved as we learn more about the COVID-19 virus,” Gonez said. “At every step, LA Unified has reviewed and reassessed its practices to ensure the continued safety of our families and staff while minimizing learning interruptions where possible. We’ve long known that testing is an important part of our multi-layered protection strategy, which is why LA Unified launched a one-of-a-kind testing program in the early months of the pandemic. “
Close contact is anyone who has been within six feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period, according to the CDC. An infected person can spread a coronavirus infection from two days before symptoms appear. Some people never develop symptoms, but they are contagious for up to two days before they test positive.
Under new CDC guidelines, those who test positive must still be isolated. For most children and adults, isolation and other precautions can be discontinued 10 days after symptoms appear and after an individual has no fever for at least 24 hours and others symptoms improved.
The CDC’s position could allay the concerns of some parents, school workers and work groups.
The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, called the test ie “promising”, while urging to continue the sweeping security measures.
“Our # 1 priority remains to keep school buildings safely open for in-person learning,” Weingarten said in a statement. “Fortunately, we know – and can access – a lot more information and take a lot more precautions to make it happen. “
“Now, especially in light of the Omicron threat, we need to redouble our efforts to share this knowledge and put it into practice: especially by using vaccines and boosters, and re-engaging in mitigation strategies that work. , especially testing, ventilation and masking inside. ,” she said.