Saturday •  December 18, 2021

Urgent Update is Needed for HCPSS Policy Regarding Covid-19 Close-Contact Quarantine Measures

 

Yesterday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its policy for close contacts in schools, encouraging the usage of the “Test to Stay” practice to minimize absenteeism and learning loss that results from Covid-19 related quarantine measures applied to students.

 

The updated CDC policy enables school-associated close contacts of positive Covid cases to continue in-person learning during their “quarantine” period, as long as they remain asymptomatic and present with negative Covid-19 test results.

 

Howard County has extremely high vaccination rates for students & staff, yet also still has a concerningly high number of asymptomatic unvaccinated students, particularly at the elementary level, being required to quarantine for 5 to 10 days at home, missing critical lessons and socializing with peers.

 

There are ~24,400 5-11 year old students in HCPSS. At a recent HCPSS Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Martirano reported that as of December 15, 2021, only 44% of 5-11 year old HCPSS students had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and only 24% were fully vaccinated.

 

Thus, without any updates in policy, ~13,700 students are currently subject to mandatory 5 to 10-day quarantine even if they remain both asymptomatic and free of Covid-19 infection for the entirety of their quarantine period. Even when HCPSS reaches a point of 95% vaccination rate for its full K-12 student body, there will be almost 3,000 students subject to this current policy of mandatory 5 to 10-day isolation.

 

There may reach a point when 100% of HCPSS students is “fully vaccinated” (whatever that evolving term represents in the future), but in the meantime, those thousands of students who not meet this requirement should not be subject unnecessarily to mandatory 5 to 10-day quarantine considering that CDC-endorsed procedures such as “Test to Stay” exist.

 

An update to some form of universal “Test to Stay” policy for the entire HCPSS student body is particularly necessary considering how the Covid-19 virus has developed in recent months, with breakthrough cases rapidly developing in fully vaccinated populations and those breakthrough cases being contagious for at least the first 5 days of infection.

 

Not only would this policy change spare thousands of currently-unvaccinated HCPSS students mandatory 5 to 10-day quarantine if they are illness-free and don’t need to be isolated, but it would also enhance the overall safety of the entire HCPSS population, ensuring that close-contact vaccinated students do not themselves become contagious breakthrough cases while they remain in the classroom (as current policy allows).

Anne Arundel County recently passed a resolution stating “Students who have been deemed close contact [to a Covid-19 case], and who are asymptomatic, should not be quarantined in 2022”

 

While it may be too soon to implement this exact policy in Howard County, HCPSS can and should consider allowing for “Test to Stay” procedures to be employed for all asymptomatic students, vaccinated and unvaccinated, instead of mandatory 10-day quarantine (for unvaccinated) or automatic return to classrooms (for vaccinated who are still susceptible to contagious breakthrough infection).

 

 

There are a variety of ways HCPSS could implement a “Test to Stay” policy for close-contact Covid-19 cases, but if the policy was immediately enacted before HCPSS itself has the infrastructure to support testing & close contact tracking directly, it could be phased in as an optional procedure:

 

 

A student identified as a close-contact to a positive Covid-19 case could choose to proceed with existing policy (5 to 10-day mandatory quarantine) or choose to undergo testing using a county facility on Day X, Day Y and Day Z (e.g. Day 1, Day 4 and Day 7) and remain in school if asymptomatic and a negative Covid test is received after each “checkpoint”.

 

 

With this approach, the close-contact student would be required to quarantine from Day 0/1 (notification) until results from “Day 1” testing are received (ideally missing just one day of school, with 24 hour turnaround time for the test), then could return on Day 2 or Day 3 at the latest and continue to stay in school if asymptomatic and if remaining tests are taken on Days 4 & 7 and come back negative.

 

 

Such an approach would be much better than requiring the student to isolate completely until Day 10, and requiring initial testing for vaccinated close-contact students in the era of Omicron and future variants will minimize risk of contagion from asymptomatic breakthrough cases. Risk of that is lower, according to current research, but not low enough to completely discount.

 

UPDATE (12/22/21): In a letter sent today to HCPSS, the Howard County Health Department is now recommending that HCPSS adopt modified quarantine options, including “Test to Stay”.

Update (12/27/21):  Just today, the CDC has updated its Covid-19 close contact quarantine guidance to recommend that even vaccinated-yet-not-boosted close-contact individuals (students & staff) submit to mandatory 5-day quarantine This will affect almost the entire HCPSS student body and many of its staff immediately or in the near future.

 

These updated CDC recommendations reinforce need for HCPSS to change its close contact quarantine policies to enable a “Test to Stay” policy for all students as well as for all staff members, regardless of vaccination status.

 

Adopting a “Test to Stay” procedure for all students & staff will ensure maximum classroom time for all “unboosted” students (likely almost the entire student body) and staff who remain unvaccinated or unboosted yet must submit to mandatory 5 day quarantine even when 100% healthy and will minimize community risk presented by asymptomatic “fully boosted”/”vaccinated within the last 2-6 months” students & staff who remain in school untested during the first 5 days post-close contact with a positive Covid case.

 

The latest CDC guidance concerningly seems to neglect the risk posed by these particular breakthrough infections, despite recent research & cases showing that these breakthroughs are possible, even with those who have received latest vaccine booster dose.

 

If you would like to see the HCPSS policy formally revised to include a variation of “Test to Stay” procedure, please contact the HCPSS Board of Education members and urge them to make this change.

 

Below is a form letter that can be used for your convenience. Email addresses for Board members follows this form letter:

 

“On Friday, December 17, 2021, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its policy for close contacts in schools, encouraging the usage of the “Test to Stay” practice to minimize absenteeism and learning loss that results from Covid-19 related quarantine measures applied to students.

 

The updated CDC policy enables school-associated close contacts of positive Covid cases to continue in-person learning during their “quarantine” period, as long as they remain asymptomatic and present with negative Covid-19 test results.

 

Additionally, on December 27, 2021, the CDC updated its Covid-19 close contact quarantine guidance to recommend that even vaccinated-yet-not-boosted close-contact individuals (students & staff) submit to mandatory 5-day quarantine.

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/s1227-isolation-quarantine-guidance.html

These updated CDC recommendations reinforce the need for HCPSS to change its close contact quarantine policies to enable a “Test to Stay” policy for all students as well as all staff, regardless of vaccination status. Adopting such a procedure for all HCPSS students & staff will

1) Ensure maximum classroom time for all “unboosted” students (likely almost the entire student body at this time) and staff who must otherwise submit to mandatory 5 day quarantine.

and

2) Minimize community risk presented by asymptomatic “fully boosted”/”vaccinated within the last 2-6 months” students & staff who remain in schools untested during the first 5 days post-close contact with a positive Covid case.

 

The latest CDC guidance concerningly seems to neglect the risk posed by these particular breakthrough infections, despite recent research & cases showing that these breakthroughs are possible, even with those who have received latest vaccine booster dose.

 

There may reach a point when 100% of HCPSS students are “fully vaccinated & currently-boosted” (whatever that evolving term represents in the future), but in the meantime, those tens of thousands of students & staff who do not meet this requirement should not be subject unnecessarily to mandatory 5-day quarantine considering that CDC-endorsed procedures such as “Test to Stay” exist.

 

With the above in mind, please take all appropriate measures as soon as possible to bring HCPSS in alignment with this new suggested guidance by the CDC and enable a “Test to Stay” procedure for all HCPSS students and staff, regardless of vaccination status.

 

Thank you,

 

[NAME]
Email Addresses / Phone Numbers:
Superintendent Martirano: 410-313-6677
State Board of Education: 410.333.2226
Superintendent@hcpss.org
Vicky_Cutroneo@hcpss.org
Chao_Wu@hcpss.org
Christina_Delmont-Small@hcpss.org
Jennifer_Mallo@hcpss.org
Student_Member@hcpss.org
Antonia_Watts@hcpss.org
Jolene_Mosley@hcpss.org
Yun_Lu@hcpss.org
BOE@hcpss.org
CBall@howardcountymd.gov
Governor.mail@maryland.gov
StateBoard.MSDE@Maryland.Gov

 


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