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Lincoln Parish school system considers new quarantine rules

Saturday, December 12, 2020
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The Centers for Disease Control recently added in its guidance an option to shorten the length of time in quarantine for those who are deemed a close contact to someone with COVID-19, and that option may soon trickle down to teachers and students in the Lincoln Parish School District.

The Louisiana Department of Health on Monday adopted the amended CDC guidelines that would allow the previous 14-day quarantine period to be reduced to 10 days or even seven days if a negative COVID-19 test is received near the end of that time.

Lincoln Parish Chief Academic Officer Lisa Bastion said the LDH conducted a conference call with local school systems to give guidance on how they could adopt the changes. She said the shorter timetables for employees and students to stay home when designated as a close contact could alleviate some of the difficulties of holding school during the pandemic.

“We were hoping the LDH would adopt these guidelines,” she said. “We’ve had children and teachers who have had to quarantine more than one time, and for the most part, they’re typically not testing positive for the virus.”

Parish schools on Monday moved grades 7-12 back to the alternating A/B day schedule they had used earlier in the year in order to address a shortage of substitute teachers that could not keep up with the number of fulltime teachers having to quarantine or isolate.

While Bastion said this quarantine reduction could help the substitute situation by decreasing the amount of teachers out of school at once, the LDH still has questions to answer before the district is ready to adopt the changes.

“The person on our call told us that when anyone returns early like this, they are required to wear a mask through day 14,” she said. “There was discussion on whether all the other children in the class had to wear a mask through day 14 as well.”

Employees and students in third grade and older are already required to wear a mask at school, but pre-K through second graders are not.

Bastion said Friday the district is still waiting on clarification from the LDH on whether, if a student in those younger grades were to come back from quarantine sooner than 14 days, all children in that classroom would have to wear a mask until the 14 days were up.

If the changes are adopted, students and teachers would have two options: either go back to school on the 11th day since exposure without taking a test, or go back on the eighth day since exposure after taking a test and getting a negative result.

The CDC guidelines say the test only counts for this purpose if it’s taken no earlier than the fifth day after exposure, since the virus could still manifest after a too-early test result. A molecular test, which is generally more accurate but takes longer to receive results, may be taken as soon as the fifth day, but a rapid antigen test can only be taken on the seventh day.

Bastion said the testing is another piece about which the district is waiting to hear from the LDH, since molecular tests often don’t come back in two days anyway.

She said if the changes are adopted locally, the district will send information to families, possibly by a few days before the Christmas break.

In the meantime, she said it’s possible some teachers who would want to use the new rules to return to class before the Christmas break could be able to do so, since adults have to wear masks at school either way.

The plan is to keep grades 7-12 on the A/B schedule for two weeks after the holiday break. Time will tell what effect the new quarantine guidelines might have on teacher and substitute availability in the classroom over the next several weeks.