BFHD updates guidance on shortened quarantines in schools

TRI-CITIES, WA - The Benton Franklin Health District (BFHD) has updated the requirements for quarantines and contact tracing for schools in Benton and Franklin county.

This guidance follows Governor Inslee's proclamation to adhere to the State Department of Health’s K-12 Schools 2020-2021 Guidance that includes conditions for quarantine. Local public health departments cannot remove those restrictions. However, there is room for local adaptation where guidance from the state is not explicit.

Students were originally allowed options of seven-day quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test or ten-day quarantine without one if they could stay six feet apart. Then, the CDC released guidance allowing three feet social distancing in schools. This means students could not adhere to the six foot social distancing that allowed for those shorter quarantine periods if they were identified as close contacts. That meant students had no choice but to quarantine for the maximum amount of time--which is 14 days.

These are the changes as of now: Kids can return if they do not show symptoms of COVID-19 after ten days without testing or seven days with a negative test result. That test can only be done at least five days after the day of exposure.

Return to school can occur:

  1. After day 10 without testing
  2. After day 7 with a negative test result (test must occur on day 5 or later)

Symptom monitoring should continue until 14 days after exposure. If symptoms develop, the student needs to leave school and isolate.

This means kids can quarantine for less time now, even with the 3-foot distancing rule.

According to the CDC, a close contact is a person who is within six feet of someone who has COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes. When a child is determined as a close contact, school staff notifies the family of that student.

Additionally, healthcare providers cannot clear a child to return to school.

"In terms of kids being able to be in school, that is guidance that is framed by both the [Washington] Department of health and OSPI. So a physician or testing center has no authority to say that the child can return," said Dr. Person.

In terms of children having access to coursework while they are quarantined, It looks different for every district.

In the Kennewick School District, teachers will work with the student to get them the assignments and materials to stay up-to-date with their work. For Richland School District, all middle and high schoolers can zoom into their classes. Elementary schools handle this on a student-to-student basis. For Pasco School District, parents are encouraged to pick up their student's assignments. Elementary and middle school students will get packets or electronic resources from the office--with additional tasks from the teacher in some cases. For high schoolers, Students will receive work as a distance learner during that period.

Schools in Benton and Franklin counties may now follow any of the quarantine options in CDC and DOH guidance, including shortened quarantines. 14 days of quarantine is the safest option, but when that is not possible, shortened quarantine options are available if the student is asymptomatic.

When shortened quarantine options were first introduced by Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) in December 2020, people opting for the shortened quarantine were instructed to follow certain conditions for the remainder of their 14- day quarantine period, including staying 6 feet away from others. When schools in Benton and Franklin counties returned to classrooms using the 3-foot distancing recommended by CDC, students under quarantine could not remain 6 feet away from others so the shortened quarantine options were not initially available.

COVID-19 testing is always recommended for anyone with symptoms or exposure. Students are still required to wear a mask, adhere to school distancing requirements, wash their hands, avoid crowds, and take other steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

You can view the full statement from BFHD here.