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Quarantine rules vary by district

COVID-19 quarantine policies across county school districts each contain different recommendations for students depending on whether they are masked or vaccinated at the time of exposure.

Because masks are optional, more variables have been introduced into the equation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 quarantine guidelines for schools recommend that close contacts who are fully vaccinated or who have had COVID-19 within the prior 90 days do not need to quarantine, but should monitor for symptoms, wear a mask indoors and get tested. Close contacts who are not fully vaccinated, however, are recommended to quarantine.

The guidelines, last updated Nov. 16, specify that students who are within 3 feet of a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case for 15 minutes or more are considered close contacts. Students within 3 to 6 feet of a COVID-19 case are close contacts if either student was wearing masks inconsistently, incorrectly or not at all.

Most school districts in the county where masks are optional follow a version of these guidelines and take into account masking and vaccination when deciding on quarantines, but the policy language, definition of close contact, how long students are required to quarantine and how masks play into the equation vary by school district.

At Butler Area School District, if students are vaccinated and have no symptoms, and were between 3 to 6 feet of an infected person when both people were masked, no action is needed. If either student in the situation was unmasked, masking and a COVID-19 test two to five days after exposure are recommended. If a student is unvaccinated, they are recommended to quarantine if they were less than 3 feet away from a positive case, if they have symptoms or if they or the person with the positive case were not wearing a mask.“We haven't changed any of our practices,” Butler Area School District superintendent Brian White said. “We notify parents when their child is a close contact, and we advise them that it's recommended that they quarantine.”White said that parents are usually notified by the school nurse, but sometimes the volume of cases means principals or assistant principals are making the call.If a child screens at a higher temperature or if they are symptomatic, White said, they would not be admitted to school.“The reality is our contact tracing is usually in the afternoon and evening,” he said. “We rarely are calling first thing in the morning, usually it's a decision of whether to come to school the next day.”

Mars Area School District students are not required to quarantine upon exposure if they are vaccinated, or if they are wearing a mask at the time of exposure, Mars Area Elementary School nurse Julie Cunningham explained.“Mars Area School District is exempting from quarantine any student who is either fully vaccinated (at least two weeks after second dose) or who consistently and appropriately wears a facial covering,” Cunningham said in an email. “If the child is fully immunized, they will not be required to quarantine after a close contact, regardless if they have been wearing a mask. Also, an unimmunized student may avoid quarantine by masking.”

Freeport Area School District updated its Health and Safety Plan effective Dec. 20.“All in-school, extra curricular, co-curricular and athletic close contacts (does not apply to at-home close contacts) to an infected individual will be identified and notified via Blackboard (notification service),” the update reads. “While remaining asymptomatic, close contacts are recommended to quarantine for the identified period. Asymptomatic close contacts that elect to remain in attendance are recommended to wear a mask while in school/at activities during the identified period.”Close contacts who become symptomatic immediately must quarantine, and seek testing and advisement from their primary care physician, the update reads.

Karns City uses the same COVID-19 quarantine flowchart guidelines as Butler Area School District, which are based on the CDC published guidelines.“We do try to adhere to the CDC guidelines, and the flowchart applies to the school setting,” said Eric Ritzert, superintendent of Karns City Area School District. “There is a slight difference between students and staff for the distance, and we do prescribe to the 15 minutes of consecutive exposure as far as minutes. That's sort of what we've been abiding by.”The flowchart explains that a person is considered a close contact if they were within 6 feet of an infectious person for 15 consecutive minutes or more in an indoor school setting with or without a mask. Staff are recommended to quarantine if they are unvaccinated or have symptoms, and if they do not have symptoms they should get tested and wear a mask, and isolate if the test is positive.

“If you are masked and the teacher is masked — because most of our teachers are masked — you don't have to quarantine,” said Moniteau Junior/Senior High School nurse Kristi McEwen. “Vaccinations definitely play into it. If they have been vaccinated, we won't quarantine them, but we strongly suggest that they get tested five to seven days after they were exposed, just in case.”During the day, if a parent calls the school district to let them know that their child's test came back positive, the district has sometimes had to pull children out who might need to quarantine, McEwen said.“If they were sitting at lunch next to them the day before, we have sometimes had to have parents come in, and parents have been good about that. We've not had too much of a problem,” McEwen said. “We're trying to avoid quarantining too many kids, but we have to do what's right to keep from spreading it.”

Slippery Rock Area School District focuses on whether students are fully vaccinated and whether they have been in contact with a positive case to determine quarantine, Assistant Superintendent Susan Miller said.“As far as masking, that's always been a great mitigation strategy, but for us that has not really played into whether students are considered a close contact,” Miller said. “We look at distance — if they have been within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes, we consider them a close contact, but we don't involve whether they were masked in the identification of a close contact.”Miller said that the district's school nurses have been “phenomenal” in conducting contact tracing.“We've been very lucky that our families have communicated well with us — 90% of the cases, we will get a call from the family,” she said. “A family will contact us and let us know that a student who was in school was positive, and our nurses do the contact tracing. Kids can be asymptomatic for 48 hours prior to showing symptoms, so we work to get that date. We back up 48 hours from then. As soon as we know, we conduct our contact tracing. Our nurses have done a great job at that.”Additionally, if a student was previously COVID-19-positive within the past three months, they do not have to quarantine.

In a letter to families on Dec. 14, Greg Hajek, pandemic coordinator and director of special services at South Butler Area School District, explained the district's quarantine policies, which differ somewhat with regards to mask-wearing.“If both students (the student identified as positive and the students identified as close contacts) are wearing a mask, the close contact students do not have to quarantine as long as they are not exhibiting symptoms,” Hajek wrote. “If no masks are being worn, or only the close contact student is wearing a mask, the student would still have to quarantine.”Close contact is defined as a person within 6 feet for 15 consecutive or cumulative minutes of a COVID-19 positive person. Students and staff identified as close contacts who are vaccinated and not experiencing symptoms do not have to quarantine.

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