School Views: Changing protocols
On Tuesday, March 16, our meeting with Eagle County Department of Public Health and Environment resulted in important changes for schools and families moving forward. The epidemiological conditions in Eagle County, though relatively high, are improving as more community members are vaccinated.
In particular, a high percentage of our most at-risk members, those over age 70 and/or with other health conditions, have been vaccinated. In addition, the staff of Eagle County Schools will likely complete their vaccination schedules by the end of March. Though we must remain vigilant and committed to our containment efforts, the threat of severe illness from COVID-19 continues to decline.
For schools, this allows for a change in quarantine protocols for staff and students. The health department has determined that it will no longer be necessary for staff or students to be quarantined based on possible contact with a positive case in the classroom. Their local data demonstrates that the wearing of face coverings and our other layers of protection have prevented the spread of COVID-19 in classroom settings.
Since the beginning of this school year, there have been only two incidents of transmission in schools. In both cases, the spread happened from a positive case that was in the classroom for multiple consecutive days before being determined to have the virus.
It’s important to consider the full concept of controlling the spread of the virus through schools. Regardless of the source of a positive case, we needed to prevent it from spreading within the schools as the first defense of it spreading outside of schools to households and vulnerable adults, such as grandparents. With that population and staff protected by the vaccine, and the masks effectively preventing spread among students, it is now possible to change the quarantine protocols.
If a student or staff member is positive and potentially contagious in a classroom, the class will receive a notice of a low-risk exposure. This just means that a positive case was in the classroom, and parents should be alert for the onset of symptoms in their child or children who were also in the classroom. Again, out of the many quarantines this year, only two incidents resulted in transmission in classrooms.
For schools, students, and parents, the change reduces quarantines and keeps more students safely in school for the remainder of the year. Schools will no longer have to assist with close contact tracing with Public Health or send quarantine orders.
Public Health will continue to do contact tracing of positive cases and will issue quarantine orders when deemed necessary. For students, this could include exposure outside of classrooms like during athletic practices. Depending on the sport or activity, the time students spend together unmasked or in closer proximity to one another can be much greater than is possible in classrooms.
It also remains critically important to continue to watch for symptoms in all family members, especially among children. Please continue to keep sick children home and seek appropriate health care for any illness, but especially for symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
Once again, we’re grateful for the partnership and leadership of our Public Health department and are excited that conditions are improving in such a way as to amend quarantine protocols in this favorable direction. We have to take these incremental improvements one at a time.
We continue to work with Public Health to determine when it is feasible for high school students to attend four days a week in-person. We are also working on ways to have the least restrictive environment for end-of-the-year activities, including graduation. These quarantine protocol changes are a step in the right direction.
Philip Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. Email him at email@example.com.