The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced updated guidance that unvaccinated students who are considered close contacts with a positive COVID-19 case do not need to quarantine, if they consistently test negative for the virus.
The new directive was announced by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who cited several studies for the decision, during a White House-hosted briefing on Friday. Before Walensky’s announcement, the agency recommended all unvaccinated students who are close contacts to quarantine.
“These studies demonstrate that ‘test to stay’ works to keep unvaccinated children in school safely,” Walensky said, while calling it “an encouraging public health practice to help keep our children in school.”
The studies she cited showed decreased absences in schools that used test-to-stay policies. One paper, which used research involving about 90 schools in Lake County, Illinois, suggested the strategy eliminated about 8,000 missed school days. The test-to-stay protocol, in another study, prevents some 92,000 absences in Los Angeles County schools.
“If exposed children meet a certain criteria and continue to test negative, they can stay in school, instead of quarantining at home,” Walensky said.
School policies that mandated students who had close contact with COVID-19 patients to quarantine have proven to be controversial. Critics have said such policies have interrupted learning while schools play catch-up for months when students were forced to stay at home and engage in virtual learning instead.
According to CDC data, about 12 percent of children ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated and about 53 percent of children ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, the illness caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
Under the new policy announced by the CDC, in order for children to stay in school, two negative tests within a week are required following exposure to COVID-19, said Walensky.
“Test-to-Stay is another valuable tool in a layered prevention strategy that includes promoting vaccination of eligible students and staff, requiring everyone age 2 and older to wear a mask inside schools and facilities, keeping at least 3 feet of distance between students, screening testing, ventilation, handwashing, and staying home when sick,” the CDC said in a longer statement announcing the move. The agency also recommended that eligible children should get vaccinated.
Studies have shown that COVID-19 is markedly less severe in children. The CDC in its most recent update said that 236 children aged 0 to 4 years have died, whereas about 535 children aged 5 to 18 died during the pandemic. As of Dec. 9, about 7.2 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 to date.
In recent days, Detroit and Washington, D.C., both announced school closures due to high COVID-19 transmissibility. Schools in Maryland and Missouri also said this week that they are shuttering their doors due to the virus, while at least one New York City school also closed.
Concurrently, several universities such as Cornell, Princeton, and Stanford have announced a return to remote instruction.