Covid close contact compromise?
Health department, commissioners propose mask option for schools
Madison County school boards are now considering a mask-related proposal passed down from the Madison County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 23.
Taking heed of the Madison County Health Board’s recommendations, Madison County Commissioners approved a scenario in which schools could forgo the current close-contact quarantine process in lieu of a new option which would keep students and staff in the classroom following a close contact with an infected individual.
So how close is too close? According to Madison County Public Health Director Emilie Sayler a close contact is defined as anyone who has been within six feet of someone who’s tested positive for covid for 15 minutes or more up to two days prior to the onset of symptoms.
Currently, per county health department requirements, anyone considered to be in close contact with someone confirmed to be sick with covid is sent home for a two-week quarantine while they’re monitored for symptoms. If, after 10 days, no symptoms arise, the close-contact quarantine comes to an end. If symptoms do arise within the 10 days, the quarantine lasts the full two weeks.
At schools the responsibility to determine close contacts is passed on to the superintendent. Given the proclivity for close contact in class and sports, the result has been a significant number of school-goers being sent home, effectively shutting down school operations in some cases and sending students to empty homes when parents can’t also take off.
Superintendents came to county commissioners earlier this month with these concerns, setting in motion a Sept. 17 special community meeting where the issues were reiterated, and other interested parties sounded off their thoughts on the quarantine’s efficacy and effects.
On Sept. 21 the county’s health board issued a possible solution to commissioners: let go of the close contact quarantines for all but members of the infected person’s household, but require those close contacts to wear a mask in school during the standard two-week quarantine period.
Mask requirements in schools, Madison County not excluded, have been a hot-button issue to say the least – that debate was alive and well during the Sept. 17 quarantine discussion. But as Sayler and commissioners agree, the close-contact mask requirement in schools is a compromise in the effort to get students, staff and teachers back in school.
The board’s recommendation and commissioner approval are just two pieces of the puzzle. Next, school boards in the coming days will make the final decision as to whether the compromise is an acceptable one.
If school boards move forward with the new procedure any current quarantines would remain at home per the prior procedure. This, said Sayler, will allow the county’s health department to follow up with and close out cases appropriately.