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MCPS covid guidance clarified / September 22, 2021

New COVID-19 guidance from the Virginia Departments of Health and Education offers local school divisions more clarity on how to deal with students and staff who have been exposed to the virus.

Mecklenburg County Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols shared the guidelines with the School Board during their monthly meeting in Boydton on Monday.

Nichols said the Virginia Department of Education has been working closely with the Governor’s Office, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and other state agencies to ensure schools and localities have the most up-to-date information and resources on the pandemic.

From a learning standpoint, educators and health officials agree that it is better to have students in the classroom learning face-to-face, not virtually.

The new guidelines redefine “close contact” for purposes of determining when persons may have been exposed to the coronavirus, and who is required to quarantine away from the school.

Close contact is defined as being within six feet of someone with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes, or more over a 24-hour period or having direct contact with respiratory secretions of infected persons. Nichols said there are exceptions to the general rule.

In the K-12 school setting, a student who was within three to six feet of an infected student is not considered to have been in close contact, if both the infected student and the exposed student wore well-fitting masks the entire time. If only one student or neither student is wearing a mask during the entire period of their contact, this is now deemed to be close contact.

Students separated by six feet or more are never considered to be in close contact, regardless of whether any or all were wearing a mask during the period of contact.

The exception to the close contact rule only applies to student-to-student exposures in K-12 settings. The exception does not apply to student-to-teacher exposures, teacher-to-student exposures, or teacher-to-teacher exposures.

For these exposures, being within six feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period is considered close contact.

The exception also does not apply to pre-K or childcare settings as they operate under a distinct set of guidelines.

For the exception to apply to students while riding a school bus, the students must be seated in their assigned seats, according to a documented seating chart and masks were worn at all times.

Regardless of whether students are wearing a mask, if two or more students spend more than 15 minutes less than three feet apart, they are considered to have been in close contact.

The quarantine recommendations differ according to vaccination status. For unvaccinated or partially vaccinated students found to have been in close contact with someone who is infected, the recommendation is to stay at home, monitor for symptoms, and follow all recommendations (e.g., wear a mask, watch their distance, and wash hands frequently) for 10 days after their last exposure.

People who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 do not need to quarantine as long as they do not have symptoms. But fully vaccinated people should still get tested three-five days after close contact exposure, and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 10 days or until they receive a negative test.

People who have had COVID-19 in the past three months do not need to quarantine as long as they do not develop new symptoms.

Nichols said the most common instances of exposure to the virus have occurred during athletic competitions.

The new guidelines recommend that participants at indoor sporting events wear masks while playing, if tolerable, particularly when participating in any sport that involves close contact.

At K-12 schools, masks are not required when exercising, such as during physical education class, but they are recommended when engaging in active sports play. Anyone age two and up is asked to and should wear a mask on the sideline, in the locker room, or in the stands when in a school or when community transmission levels are substantial or high.

While playing outdoor sports is generally safer than indoors, the Virginia Department of Education and Virginia Department of Health recommend that unvaccinated athletes, coaches, officials, and spectators strongly consider wearing masks, especially if close contact is likely to occur. Fully vaccinated people might also consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor spaces if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised.

Other recommendations call for all eligible participants to be vaccinated against COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and the Virginia Department of Health, vaccination is the most effective way to reduce risk of transmission of COVID-19.

All participants and spectators are expected to maintain at least six feet of physical distance to the extent possible when not engaged in play. Exercise and activities like cheering and shouting increase respiration and can increase the risk of transmitting COVID-19. These activities may benefit from additional distancing, such as 10 feet.

Sports that can be modified to increase the distance between participants in practice or in play are encouraged.

Share items need to be cleaned and disinfected between each use, to the extent practicable and cloth masks should be washed after each use.

Occupancy limits in training facilities and locker rooms should be reduced by staggering training sessions and pre-game preparation. Carpooling when traveling for competition or to practices should also be limited. When group transportation is required, reduce vehicle occupancy to allow for the greatest distance possible between persons not of the same household and require individuals to wear a mask while being transported.

Virginia DOE further recommends that school divisions consider screening testing, especially for school-sponsored sports. Though this may not be practical as testing kits are scarce and rapid tests are less than 50 percent reliable.

Finally, school divisions should cancel or postpone events, sporting and others, when community transmission levels of the virus are high.

Speaking to the School Board Monday, Denise Digh, a parent of a Bluestone High School student and a practicing nurse, said she appreciates the new guidance and hoped the new close contact rule would decrease the amount of quarantining that is taking place.

She said her son was sent home from school on the third day. Under the new definition he likely would not have been in “close contact” with the exposed person.

Digh acknowledged that this pandemic “has been scary” but she is equally worried that “a lot of the policies that are made are guesstimating. I do not see a lot of science. It’s a lot of spaghetti being thrown against the wall to see what sticks.”

Digh said her research revealed that kids in the five-18 age group have a very low hospitalization rate. She said the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that fewer than two percent of children infected with the virus need hospitalization. Those who are most severely impacted by the virus have a “co-morbidity.”

She asked the school to consider, instead of a 10-day quarantine, asking parents who have a student potentially exposed to the virus to “closely monitor” their child. She added that MCPS should work with local testing companies to make PCR tests more accessible and readily available, and give parents whose students have been exposed the option of having their child attend school virtually during the 10-day quarantine, or if the child has no symptoms, to remain in school.

Digh also asked the school division to be more forthcoming with information. When her son was sent home, the only information she received was that he had to stay out for 10 days and get a PCR test. His school would not allow him to return based on the results of a rapid test.

Nichols thanked Digh for her remarks and explained, “We’ve looked at the data. The number of kids with COVID is up but not significantly.” He further explained that school nurses are being taxed by the amount of time they must spend on contact tracing. “It’s unbelievable. We’re making adjustments as best we can.”

He noted, too, that there is an “ongoing issues with kids coming back to school after being exposed to the virus and before they know the results of their COVID test.” This is proving problematic for the schools and the school nurses.

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The entire state of Va is red according to the CDC, but according to the DOE we are not in a high state of transmission LOL. Do what you feel. There are religious and medical exemptions to the tyrannical mask mandates. These people have become petty tyrants enjoying their power trip.

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