How Oregon’s K-12 School Contact Tracing and Quarantine Protocols Work

On Tuesday, Oregon health and education officials urged schools to continue measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including indoor masking, acknowledging the rapid rise of omicron and the threat it still poses to keeping schools open this year.

“Oregon is now several weeks away from feeling the impacts of the omicron variant, and several weeks remain before the declines in exposures, illnesses and hospitalizations are fully realized,” a statement from the Department of Health said. Oregon Education.

“Students’ access to in-person instruction remains at serious risk through February, with our rural schools and communities going through the local ‘omicron peak’ even as we watch our statewide numbers slowly decline. “

These exhortations follow a change made by the Oregon Health Authority last month to COVID-19 protocols in K-12 schools that relaxed contact tracing rules to apply only to “unmasked situations.” “.

The contact tracing update resulted in some changes to how districts implemented their COVID testing programs for students and staff – which was already limiting the number of students who needed to be quarantined. if they were identified as a close contact.

New definitions for contact tracing

Overall, the state has backed down on its contact tracing and case investigation requirements, per CDC guidelines.

“During the current outbreak, case investigation and contact tracing cannot effectively slow the spread of the disease,” public health officer and state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said in a statement. communicated.

On January 14, the state reduced the number of contacts schools would have to make. Now the state only recommends contact tracing for “unmasked” situations, changing the definition of an exposure to someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

Schools must always report positive antigen tests to the OHA.

“Under updated guidance released in January 2022, Oregon will no longer consider masked contact in K-12 environments, including school buses, to be exposure regardless of distance, although physical distancing in the possible is strongly advised,” reads ODE’s Ready Schools, guidance for safe learners.

The guidelines also recommend that schools establish student cohorts and keep them small to help focus school resources on identifying “high-risk, indoor, unmasked exposures most likely to result in transmission,” including including situations where people are unmasked during meals, learning experiences and extra-curricular activities.

“Schools that are unable or unwilling to establish stable cohorts should continue to do individual contact tracing to identify students who have been exposed to a case.”

OHA officials said this is a “common-sense change in contact tracing and notification that will allow schools to focus their resources on identifying high-risk exposures, indoors and unmasked, most likely to result in transmission”.

As individual contact tracing dwindles, the state “has set up its hotline for those who test positive,” Sidelinger said in a written statement.

“Public health can then focus on high-risk settings to reduce the spread.”

Deputy State Health Officer and Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Tom Jeanne added “The vast majority of transmission (in K-12 schools) has occurred as a result of non-contact. hidden inside.”

Other new rules

The latest guidelines for K-12 schools also include a shorter quarantine time for those exposed and unvaccinated for COVID-19. The new guidelines change the quarantine time to five days instead of 10. This also aligns with CDC guidelines.

Those still showing no symptoms on day six of quarantine can get tested and, if negative, can return to school.

Unvaccinated students and staff also have another option in the event of an exposure, called testing to stay. Many schools are now implementing a test-to-stay program, where students can take a school-administered BinaxNOW rapid antigen test or iHealth COVID-19 rapid antigen self-test at home to see if they can stay home. ‘school.

How does it work, when an unvaccinated student or staff member is found to have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, the school will immediately give them a rapid antigen test. If they test negative, they can stay in school. They test again three to five days later. If they test negative, they can stay in school. If at any time they test positive, they must follow state guidelines on quarantine.

On Jan. 28, the Oregon Health Authority also passed a permanent rule to continue to require indoor masks at K-12 schools and that school staff be fully vaccinated.

The temporary rule was supposed to expire the same day, so nothing really changed. Although this is a “permanent” rule, it does not mean that they will be in place indefinitely. They can be loosened if necessary in response to pandemic levels.

Any masking is better than none to prevent the spread of COVID-19, health officials say. However, with omicron being more contagious, many infectious disease experts across the United States have recommended people upgrade their masks to the stronger KN95 or N95 which are more efficient at filtration than cloth masks.

Following:Most people still wear cloth masks. Here’s why it’s a problem with omicron

The OHA guidance doesn’t make a difference for this.

“Our message is that a properly fitted mask – which covers the nose and mouth and fits snugly over the cheeks – is effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19,” the OHA said in an email.

What does the change in contact tracing for test until stay mean?

Because the test-to-stay protocol requires people to test if they are exposed, the fact that the state is changing the definition of an exposure makes a difference for schools. However, that doesn’t change much of what parents should expect.

If a student is found to be in what the state calls a “high risk” situation (where someone has been exposed), the school will contact the parents.

“So if everyone is wearing a mask, we consider it not an exposure,” said Alisha Dodds, spokesperson for the Bethel School District. “Everyone should wear masks at school, and the only times they aren’t would be during meal times. … So a student is considered a close contact if they have been within 6 feet of someone else for a cumulative 15 minutes and their mask has been removed the entire time.

There are few other instances where a student might have their mask on during school hours. For example, if the children are running and exercising physically, they do not have to wear a mask or they are in a class for pupils with special educational needs where it may be more difficult to wear a mask all the time.

Since the state has different quarantine requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff, the stay-testing program is primarily available to unvaccinated students. It is also an opt-in program, so unvaccinated students do not have to participate.

The new guidelines also use the wording “up to date” on vaccinations instead of just “fully vaccinated”. Up-to-date means the student has received all of their eligible COVID-19 vaccines, so if they are eligible for a booster and have not yet received it, they are technically not “up-to-date”. “. ” and could participate in the test-to-stay.

Schools are now only testing students in those high-risk situations under new leadership, Dodds said, but they’ve still conducted 913 total tests on students and staff so far.

‘805 of those (tests) came back negative so that’s huge and before the test to stay we were quarantining anyone who was in close contact – it was even students in masks,’ she said .

“Truly the test to stay and this new contact tracing protocol has dramatically reduced the number of students we send home.”

While some of the changes can be difficult to manage, Dodds said nurses are leading the charge and working to keep COVID-19 at bay in schools.

“Every time that happens, they take it in stride and they work to implement every adjustment,” she said. “They’ve done amazing things and because of that work there’s been very little to no spread of COVID-19 in the schools.”

School quarantine, explained

Oregon has different quarantine protocols for students and staff depending on whether they are current on COVID-19 and recalls, vaccinated but not current, and unvaccinated. Here’s how it breaks down:

If you are vaccinated and up to date with eligible boosters, and exposed to COVID-19, you are not required to self-quarantine, but testing is recommended five days after exposure. If it is a positive test result, self-isolate for at least five days. If negative, no isolation is necessary.

If you are vaccinated, but not up to date with reminders, or not vaccinated, this varies depending on where the exposure occurred. If you were:

  • exhibited outside of school, quarantined for five days. ‘
  • exposed at school and masked, you are not considered a close contact and do not have to self-quarantine.
  • exposed during unmasked school activities or at mealtimes, you are eligible for the test-to-stay program.
  • exposed during unmasked extracurricular activities, quarantine for at least five days and test five days after exposure.

Contact journalist Jordyn Brown at [email protected] or 541-246-4264, and follow her on Twitter @thejordynbrown and Instagram @registerguard. Support local journalism, subscribe to The Register-Guard.