State rolls out new guidelines for student, staff quarantines after COVID-19 exposure in school

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School officials now can choose whether to allow students and staff who are not fully vaccinated to remain in school after close contact with a COVID-19 case, under certain circumstances.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced a new statewide initiative Thursday called Screen and Stay. The guidelines, Lamont said in a statement, ease restrictions that have led to frequent and repeated quarantines, which have impacted student learning and placed a burden on working families.

“Throughout this pandemic, we’ve consistently done our best to maintain a safe learning environment for all students and staff,” Lamont said during an event at Newington High School, “while also understanding that students achieve the greatest outcomes when they have access to in-person learning.”

The recent approval of COVID-19 vaccines for children between the ages of 5 and 11 also drove the decision to ease the rules for quarantine.

“While that rollout occurs,” Lamont said, “the Screen and Stay initiative will help ensure that more students can remain in school and we can provide a safe, in-person learning environment.”

When guidelines would apply

One major caveat is that the close contact with a COVID-19 case must have occurred during the school day. If the close contact occurred during after school sports, social interactions outside of school or between members of the same household, Screen and Stay guidelines would not apply.

Screen and Stay also would not apply if the individuals were not consistently and correctly masked indoors and a six-foot distance was not maintained during the close contact, or the contact cannot consistently and correctly wear a mask.

If the close contact occurred indoors or on school transportation, both the contact and the COVID-19 case must have been consistently masked during the exposure even if brief unmasked periods occurred, such as snack time or during lunch as long as six feet or more of space was consistently maintained.

If the close contact occurred outdoors, the individuals could have been masked or unmasked but were supervised by staff, such as mask breaks, physical education or recess.

The close contact must remain asymptomatic. Any symptoms revert to regular isolation or quarantine.

Meriden hopes to reduce quarantines from bus close contacts

Area school district officials reacted favorably to the prospect of reduced time in quarantine for students and staff.

Mike Grove, Meriden Public Schools’ assistant superintendent of operations, said Thursday that school administrators are likely to adopt Screen and Stay.

“We have a process in place when we have a positive case,” Grove said. “Our schools are very good at running through the contract tracing, and then identifying students that will need to quarantine. In Meriden, our teachers agreed to offer teach anyone on quarantine from home.”

Within Meriden schools, there have been 69 positive COVID-19 cases among students, or 1.06 percent of all students, and 19 among staff, or 1.71 percent of all staff, this school year, according to Meriden schools’ COVID-19 dashboard.

There also have been 338 quarantines among students, or 4.73 percent of students, and five among staff, or .57 percent of staff.

Nathan Hale and John Barry elementary schools are the two buildings with the largest numbers of student quarantines due to suspected COVID-19 exposure.

Grove said that school administrators have been involved in conversations about the initiative with the state health and education departments as the initiative was developed at the state level.

“We’re happy they're trying to get students back in school as much as possible, and we think this could definitely be a big help to some of our students,” he said. “While vaccinations are now available, this gives some students a chance to stay in school until they get vaccinated, especially in our elementary schools, and not be sent home for close contacts.” 

Easing restrictions for close contact while students are on school buses and other transportation is going to be a big help in Meriden, Grove said.

Most of the classrooms have desks spaced three feet apart, he said. With students wearing masks and sitting three feet apart in classrooms, they don't need to quarantine if there is a positive case in the classroom.

Many students take buses to school, however, and a lot of students are quarantining from close contact on buses.

“The change will definitely help us, and help our families of close contacts, when they’re taking the buses to school,” he said.

Other area officials welcome changes

Wallingford Board of Education vice chairperson Tammy Raccio, who also participated in several state Department of Education task forces and workshops, said Screen and Stay will be “a sigh of relief” for parents who are struggling with kids who are quarantined.

“It's at the drop of the hat,” she said. “You can get that phone call, and your child has to stay home for ten days. And what do you do with work? It's really difficult for parents who are going through this, and some kids have been quarantined more than once.”

Raccio said that in Wallingford there’s a weekly average of about 250 students and about 25 staff members in quarantine. The most impacted students are likely those in elementary school, she said, because those students haven’t been vaccinated yet.

Wallingford Public Schools Superintendent Danielle Bellizzi did not immediately return a request for comment.

Southington School Superintendent Steven Madancy said he welcomes the relief the Screen and Stay program “will bring to students who have been forced to isolate multiple times over the past 18 months.”

District officials already have begun meeting to discuss systems and procedures for the screening process, he said.

Not counting positive cases, 389 students in Southington were forced to quarantine in September, and 160 students in October.

Once the state began offering the test after Day 5 and return after Day 7 option for students identified as close contacts, it became apparent that rates of in-school transmission were negligible, as waves of students were returning on Day 8 with negative test results, Madancy said.

“The social isolation, inconsistent access to live in-person instruction, and exclusion from extra curricular activities has had a tremendous impact on the social, emotional and academic needs of our students,” he said. “Couple that with the challenges posed to working families needing childcare during quarantine periods, fatigue of teachers streaming to remote and in-person learners simultaneously, and administrators working nights and weekends to contact trace delivering unwelcome news to students and families, I am hopeful this change brings relief and signals better days ahead.” 

Cheshire School Superintendent Jeff Solan said via email Thursday that Cheshire school administrators plan to fully review the program when it’s released to school districts.

“CPS will certainly explore any options that seek to provide more safe, in-person access to school,” he said.

He said that the school district has been seeing approximately six to 10 quarantined students each week, which are predominantly due to family exposure and at the elementary level.

Middle and high school quarantine is relatively rare, he said, due to the high rate of vaccinated students in those age groups.

He added that the Chesprocott Health District already has several hundred students signed up for its first community vaccine clinic for 5-11-year-olds Tuesday at Doolittle Elementary School, which he believes will reduce likelihood of quarantine at the elementary level.

“We look forward to a point where education is the only focus, and I believe that the Screen and Stay program may help us take a step in that direction,” he said.

LTakores@record-journal.com203-317-2212Twitter: @LCTakores


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