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COVID-19 quarantine time is cut for Indian River public school students

STORY BY GEORGE ANDREASSI (Week of December 17, 2020)

Quarantine periods can be cut to as little as seven days for Indian River County public school students and staff members who test negative for COVID-19 and present no symptoms.

The school district reduced quarantine periods to 7-to-10 days from 14 days pursuant to revised guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control, said Schools Superintendent David Moore.

The rapid return process calls for a quarantined student or staff member to take a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19 on the sixth day after exposure and go back to school on the seventh day, if the test results turn out negative, Moore said.

Otherwise, students and staff members can return to school after the 10th day of quarantine without taking a test, if they’ve experienced no symptoms, Moore said.

“We are currently working with students that are under the umbrella of quarantine right now to get them the information they need so if there’s an opportunity for them to return early, then let’s get them back to school,” Moore told the School Board.

A total of 58 students in 10 schools have been directed to quarantine since the CDC revised the guidelines Dec. 2, records show. That includes 14 students at Indian River Academy, 12 at Liberty Magnet School and 11 at Sebastian River High School.

The quarantined students had come in close contact with a total of seven students and six staff members who tested positive for COVID-19 between Dec. 7 and Dec. 13, records show.

Overall, a total of 111 students and 36 staff members have been diagnosed with the virus since the school year started on Aug. 24.

A total of 1,187 students and 29 staff members have been directed to quarantine since schools reopened.

The quarantining process executed by the state Health Department’s Indian River County office and the school district has been criticized by parents, students and School Board members.

During School Board meetings and private interviews, several parents, students and board members have questioned the justification for some quarantines, with many saying quarantined students frequently fall behind in their studies.

The revised CDC guidelines could reduce quarantine periods by as much as half, Moore noted.

“A typical quarantine prior to this new [CDC] release was a 14-day quarantine from [the time of] exposure,” Moore said. “This is going to reduce from 10-14 days being out of school, to 6-10 days being out of school.

“This is an opportunity ... that will allow us to significantly reduce the amount of time students are out of school as it relates to quarantine,” Moore said.

The basic quarantine period remains 14 days from the time of exposure to a person diagnosed with COVID-19, but the CDC provided options on Dec. 2 to shorten quarantine.

The CDC acknowledged any quarantine shorter than 14 days slightly increases the chances of the virus spreading.

The post-quarantine transmission risk is 5-to-12 percent after the 7-day quarantine with PCR testing, the CDC said. The transmission risk is 1-to-10 percent after the 10-day quarantine.

While the school district scaled back the quarantine period, its mandatory mask policy will remain in effect until the COVID-19 pandemic abates, Moore said.

State health officials, local pediatricians, parents and school officials in nearby districts are being consulted routinely as part of the facemask deliberations, Moore said.

“The feedback I have received is: We are in the midst of an aggressive spike,” Moore said.

“When it comes to a health and safety measure, or face covering requirement, or walking away from it, we once again will be in the position of leading that particular work.”

The School Board opted against discussing a plan for phasing out the mandatory facemask requirement on Dec. 8 because of a recent lawsuit challenging the policy, said School Board member Teri Barenborg.