New state student quarantine rules grew out of Warren County pilot

The Stebbins High School marching band practicing social distancing and wearing masks.
Caption
The Stebbins High School marching band practicing social distancing and wearing masks.

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Unclear whether more districts will rescind mask mandates

New state school quarantine guidelines released Monday are based in part on a Warren County pilot program that school leaders there believe kept more healthy students in class.

Montgomery County districts want to review the new guidelines before deciding if they will follow them.

Updated COVID-19 quarantine guidelines for schools released by the Ohio Department of Health on Monday focus on students and staff exposed to the virus wearing face masks and getting tested to allow them to continue with classroom learning and school-related extracurriculars.

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The Mask to Stay and Test to Play guidelines were created using information gathered from a pilot quarantine program in Warren County where schools did not require masks for all and followed similar guidelines, as well as from local health departments and other programs outside of Ohio, ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said.

During the pilot program in Warren County, roughly 97% of students deemed a direct contact in school did not develop symptoms for COVID-19, according to Springboro Schools District Communications Coordinator Scott Marshall.

Springboro Schools, a participant in the pilot program for the past three weeks, was able to keep 13 direct contacts in school who never developed symptoms of COVID-19, Marshall said. Weekly positive COVID-19 case numbers in the district have been between 9 and 16 during the pilot program. That’s down from in September when weekly cases ranged from 20 to 41.

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Mason City Schools was able to keep 57 healthy students in school during the pilot program, according to a district spokeswoman.

“This new quarantine option allows healthy students to stay in school — preserving students’ ability to connect with their teachers and classmates,” said Jonathan Cooper, Mason City Schools superintendent. “We are also grateful to be able to leverage testing in order to allow healthy kids to actively engage with their extracurricular activities — something we know is critical for their mental health.”

Will more local schools change guidelines?

The majority of Montgomery County school districts have face mask mandates. Shannon Cox, superintendent of the Montgomery County Educational Service Center, said county districts are open to adopting the new guidelines from ODH but she’s not sure whether districts will rescind their mask mandates at the same time.

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“Obviously, they will be taking that to their board of education or their teachers unions and/or their cabinet members,” Cox said. “You know there’s a lot of discussion that has taken place to put the mask mandates in place. So getting rid of them obviously will take time and discussion.”

The superintendents of Dayton Public Schools and Kettering City Schools both said their districts will need time to discuss these new guidelines from ODH before making any decisions.

“We will need to take a look at these guidelines in more detail before making any decisions with regard to processes we currently have in place surrounding masking and quarantining,” said Scott Inskeep, superintendent of Kettering City Schools. “As always, our decisions are grounded in our desire to keep students safe and in school.”

Cox said the test to play portion of the new guidance is welcome but could be logistically challenging because none of the districts have the ability to do testing on site.

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Dan Suffoletto, a spokesman for Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County, said that students and school staff should wear face masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The new state guidelines, which call for masking in leu of quarantining, further emphasized that masks provide good protection, he said.

What’s in the new guidelines?

The new guidelines are for students and staff who were exposed to COVID in a classroom setting or school-related activity. Those exposed to COVID-19 outside of school should continue to follow standard quarantine measures, Vanderhoff said.

Schools can immediately begin implementation, but they are not required to adopt the state-issued guidelines. Parents can opt out of them, he added.

Under Mask to Stay, students and and staff can continue with in-person learning after being directly exposed to COVID-19 in a school setting if they do the following:

  • Wear a mask for at least 14 days after the initial exposure date.
  • Self-monitor or have a parent monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Isolate and get tested if they show symptoms of COVID-19, regardless of the severity of symptoms.
  • Students and staff can discontinue the masking after seven days if they don’t develop any symptoms and if they test negative for the virus between days five and seven from their exposure.

Though parents and individuals are responsible for monitoring for symptoms under Mask to Stay, if a school staff member or nurse sees someone showing symptoms for coronavirus, they should act accordingly, Vanderhoff said.

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Test to Play permits students and staff to participate in extracurricular activities after being directly exposed to COVID in a school setting if they do the following:

  • Wear a mask when able, such as while on a team bus, in the locker room or while on the sidelines or bench.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 once they learn they were exposed to the virus.
  • Test again between days five and seven following the initial exposure.
  • Students and staff can discontinue the quarantine procedures after seven days if they test negative between days five and seven.

Students and staff can use either PCR or rapid antigen tests, Vanderhoff said. However, the tests must be proctored or observed. He added with Test to Play, schools should consider same-day testing for athletic competitions.

The Test to Play option focuses more on testing because it can be harder for participants to wear face masks and social distance during extracurricular activities, he added.


By the numbers

Weekly new COVID-19 cases in schools as of Oct. 21:

Greene County: 91 student cases, 15 staff cases

Miami County: 53 student cases, 17 staff cases

Montgomery County: 118 student cases, 22 staff cases

Warren County: 165 student cases, 13 staff cases

Vaccination rate in 12- to 17-year-olds as of Oct. 25:

Greene County: 47.2%

Miami County: 26.4%

Montgomery County: 42.4%

Warren County: 55.6%

Source: Ohio Department of Health

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