Updated guidance on COVID-19 isolation and quarantine protocols for pre-K-12 schools in Douglas County was announced Friday by Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.
School nurses, administrators of public and private schools, and licensed childcare facilities have the responsibility to identify cases of COVID-19, close contacts and their risk levels, and establish exclusion measures. School officials are allowed to report cases of isolation and quarantine to LDCPH. According to the guidelines, LDCPH staff are available for consultation on difficult or complex cases.
The Times has compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions to offer community members help in understanding the guidelines. We’ll update this FAQ when new information becomes available. If you have a question to add, let K-12 reporter Tricia Masenthin know via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last update: Sept. 14, 2021
Q: What are possible symptoms of COVID-19?
Any one of the following: cough, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, new loss of smell, new loss of taste or pneumonia/acute respiratory distress syndrome. Or any two of the following with none of the previous symptoms: fever, chills, cold shivers, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, diarrhea, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, congestion or runny nose.
Q: What is the difference between quarantine and isolation?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, quarantine measures are for those who might have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Isolation is for those infected with the virus, even if they don’t have symptoms.
Q: Who should isolate?
- Anyone who has tested positive via PCR or antigen test. If a negative PCR test result occurs after a positive antigen test, the negative PCR test result stands.
- A positive over-the-counter test outside of a school setting is considered a suspect case and is strongly encouraged to undergo a follow-up PCR test. The individual should isolate until follow-up testing has been completed. If the individual declines further testing, isolation and quarantine measures are implemented.
- A close contact with symptoms of COVID-19 who does not lab test is considered a probable case. The individual will require isolation or quarantine measures until test results.
Q: What is a close contact?
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment defines a close contact as someone who has interacted with an individual who has tested positive in any of the following ways:
- Within 6 feet for longer than 10 minutes
- Direct contact with respiratory secretions
- Live with or stayed with overnight
Q: Are close contacts defined differently in an early childhood or K-12 setting?
Yes. LDCPH identifies high- and low-risk activities that might influence whether an individual is considered a susceptible close contact.
Q: What is a susceptible contact?
Someone who is identified as a high-risk contact, such as an unvaccinated individual engaged in a high-risk activity. Sonia Jordan, director of informatics for LDCPH, said there are three distinctions in the school setting for someone to not be considered highly susceptible:
- Fully vaccinated individuals
- Individuals with a documented positive antigen or PCR test for COVID-19 in the previous six months
- Those who are engaged in low-risk activities as outlined in the guidance
Q: What are considered high-risk activities in schools?
- Eating or drinking within 6 feet of others
- Physical exertion indoors or outdoors where individuals are less than 6 feet apart for 10 minutes or longer.
- Some high-exertion activities can be considered for 10 cumulative minutes during a 24-hour period. The contract tracer has discretion.
- Playing woodwind or brass instruments without masking and social distancing.
- Singing without masking and social distancing.
- Athletic activity with close, sustained contact between participants, lack of significant barriers and high probability that respiratory droplets will be transmitted between participants. See chart below for examples.
Q: What are considered low-risk activities in schools?
- Being in the same classroom with proper and consistent mask wearing by all individuals (including contacts and positive cases) and 3 to 6 feet of distance.
- Traveling on the same bus with proper and consistent mask wearing by all individuals (including contacts and positive cases) and 3 to 6 feet of distance.
- Being on a playground, masked or unmasked, as long as the activity does not evolve into a high-risk exposure, defined as sustained contact with a positive case for 10 minutes or longer with physical exertion.
Q: Do low-risk contacts have to take quarantine measures if exposed to a positive case?
They do not need to following an exposure to a positive case as long as they do not have symptoms; however, it it is recommended they wear a facial mask in all settings for 14 days following exposure and are encouraged to test for COVID-19 three to five days after exposure and then retest seven to 10 days after exposure. This is a public health best practice but not a requirement.
Q: Is mask wearing considered during the quarantine and isolation review process?
The guidelines state that “proper and consistent mask wearing is at the discretion of the school contact tracing process.”
Q: If an individual tests positive for COVID-19, how long are they considered infectious (likely to spread the infection)?
- A positive test result is considered infectious 48 hours before symptoms began.
- If an individual has no symptoms, they are considered infectious for 48 hours before lab test was obtained.
Q: Do fully vaccinated individuals have to take quarantine measures if exposed to a positive case?
Fully vaccinated individuals are not considered susceptible contacts. They do not need to quarantine following an exposure as long as they do not have symptoms; however, it is recommended they wear a facial mask in all settings for 14 days following exposure and are encouraged to test for COVID-19 three to five days after exposure and then retest seven to 10 days after exposure. This is a public health best practice but not a requirement.
Q: What does fully vaccinated mean?
People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty or Moderna vaccines, or after a single-dose of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine.
Q: Do individuals who’ve had COVID-19 have to undergo quarantine if exposed to a positive case?
Individuals with a confirmed history of COVID-19 in the previous six months are not considered susceptible contacts. This is known as presumed immunity. They do not need to quarantine following an exposure as long as they do not have symptoms; however, it is recommended they wear a facial mask in all settings for 14 days following exposure and are encouraged to test for COVID-19 three to five days after exposure and then retest seven to 10 days after exposure. This is a public health best practice but not a requirement. They’ll need to provide proof of a documented positive antigen or PCR test from six months or less before the exposure. A serology or antibody test is not considered a substitute for an antigen or PCR test.
Q: Who has to quarantine at home?
A 10-day quarantine from the date of last exposure might be required if an individual declines mask-wearing or lab testing, or if the school determines it is needed based on risk-level factors or available resources.
Q: What in-school quarantine models are available for high-risk contacts?
Schools and school districts will approve participation based on factors such as staffing, resources and spacing availability. The guidelines state, “Not all schools, districts and early childcare settings will be able to utilize and operationalize every option” and there could be situations where administrators decide it’s in the best interest to close a classroom. Here are the LDCPH-approved models:
- Cohort classroom quarantine
- An approved KDHE testing strategy
- 6/8 Test Out program
Q: What is a cohort classroom quarantine?
A classroom-based modified cohort quarantine allows staff and students who have been exposed to remain in school — without symptoms — assuming all of the following requirements can be met:
- Transportation: Do not commute with anyone who is not also on modified quarantine.
- Arrival and dismissal: Must arrive and leave school on a staggered schedule without interacting with the general school population.
- Pre-screenings: Before school, and preferably outdoors, administrators should assess temperatures and symptoms. Anyone measuring a temperature of 99 degrees Fahrenheit or higher should receive a more in-depth temperature check and symptom screening.
- Medical check-in: Quarantined individuals check in with medical staff at specified time periods. Anyone who feels sick during the day should be sent home immediately and surfaces in their work area disinfected. Anyone who develops symptoms during the quarantine period should notify the school nurse or administration, who will work with LDCPH to arrange lab testing.
- Facial coverings: Wear a mask at all times while indoors at school.
- Physical separation: Quarantined staff and students should be physically separated from the rest of the school population. All activities — including meal times and specials — should occur in the quarantined classroom and away from non-quarantined students and staff.
- School activities: No activities with non-quarantined individuals. This includes before- and after-school care and all school activities.
- Bathrooms: Quarantined cohort must have its own designated bathroom or common bathrooms should be cleaned after a quarantined staff member or student has used them, if feasible.
- Outside of school: Cohort members should understand they are still in quarantine outside of the school day. They should stay home when not in school.
- Cleaning/disinfection/sanitation: KDHE recommends regular handwashing or use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and the cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces to reduce the risk of COVID-19, although the risk of transmitting the virus from touching surfaces is low.
Q: What are the KDHE-approved testing strategies?
A key benefit of using the federally funded plans in the Kansas K-12 Stay Positive Test Negative Initiative is they could help testing schools avoid quarantines. Those schools could allow those who have come into contact with a person who has tested positive to continue in-person learning or return sooner if daily tests produce negative results. Schools who opt in can submit a proposal to KDHE that includes the following LDCPH-approved strategies:
- Test to Stay and Learn: Test identified contacts daily during a quarantine (starting 10 days after exposure) with the goal of keeping those who test negative at school.
- Test to Stay, Play and Participate: Test identified contacts daily during a quarantine (starting 10 days after exposure) with the goal of keeping those who test negative at school and participating in extracurricular school activities and events.
At Monday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Anthony Lewis said the district was researching options and how pandemic relief funds could support additional staffing needs that might arise from participating in the program.
Q: What is the 6/8 Test Out program?
On or after day six of an exposure to a positive case, an identified contact may obtain a PCR test. If the test result is negative and the individual remains asymptomatic (without symptoms), they may be released from quarantine on or after day eight. Proper verification of a negative PCR test result is required; a rapid or over-the-counter test or serology test will not be accepted.
Q: What should I do if exposed to someone with COVID-19?
Individuals should always self-monitor for symptoms following any exposure to a positive COVID-19 case. If symptoms develop, the individual should isolate at home, get tested and remain at home until receipt of lab results. Wearing a facial mask is recommended in all settings for 14 days following exposure and to test for COVID-19 three to five days after exposure and then retest seven to 10 days after exposure.