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The new school year is underway, as are new federal guidelines to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated recommendations on Thursday, largely relaxing virus protocols and leaving much of the decision-making up to individuals and local officials.
Changes to existing guidelines reflect the country’s general immunity. About 95% of the population has some immunity due to a combination of vaccination and past infections, according to Greta Massetti, senior epidemiologist at the CDC.
“We also have a better understanding of how to protect people from exposure to the virus,” Massetti said in a statement. “This guidance recognizes that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us reach a point where COVID-19 is no longer severely disrupting our daily lives.”
Sanitary measures will likely be different depending on the school district, but here are some things to know about the best practices recommended by the CDC.
Universal indoor masking is recommended in almost half of the country
The CDC is calling on students and staff members to wear “properly fitting” masks at school if they live in communities with high COVID-19 transmission rates. As of Thursday, that represented nearly 40% of counties in the United States, including Los Angeles, Nashville and most of Florida.
In general, students who are sick or exposed to the virus must wear a face covering for 10 days, whether they have been vaccinated or already infected. The latest guidelines also advise people to put on a mask when in the school nurse’s office or other health care settings.
The CDC has asked school administrators to ensure that masking policies are appropriate for students with disabilities or immunocompromises.
“Students with immunocompromised illnesses or other conditions or disabilities that increase the risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 should not be placed in separate classrooms or otherwise separated from other students,” the college said. agency.
Routine testing is no longer recommended, with some exceptions
The agency no longer recommends routine testing in K-12 schools unless COVID-19 transmission rates are high in the area.
If so, school administrators should consider implementing health screens for “high-risk activities” like close-contact sports, music and drama. Large events like prom, tournaments and field trips should also incorporate testing or possibly be rescheduled if infection rates become a concern. The same rules apply for the first day back after holidays and other vacations, according to the CDC.
When it comes to testing, the new guidelines also make no distinction between vaccinated or unvaccinated people – which is a stark difference from the previous rules.
Quarantine requirements are removed
Similar to routine testing, the CDC is no longer advising students or staff exposed to the virus to self-quarantine. Instead, the agency’s new advice is that people who have been exposed wear face coverings for 10 days and get tested.
Due to changes to testing and quarantine policy, the CDC says ‘test to stay’ programs, which required unvaccinated exposed students to be tested frequently to attend school, are no longer necessary. .
That being said, the agency is urging schools to allow “flexible, non-punitive and supportive” paid sick leave policies as well as allowing excused absences when students are sick.
“Avoid policies that encourage coming to school when sick and support children learning at home if they are sick,” the new guidelines state.
What to do if you or your student are sick
Students and staff who have symptoms such as a cough, fever or sore throat should go home and get tested immediately, the CDC said. For people who are at risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, the agency recommends seeing their doctor.
Those who test positive must self-isolate at home for at least five days. Thereafter, isolation depends on whether they continue to show symptoms or test positive for the virus.
Students and staff sick with the virus don’t need to test negative to end isolation, but it could shorten the number of days they have to wear a mask after falling ill .
But generally, the CDC recommends that students and staff continue to wear a mask for 10 days after symptoms start.