Students no longer have to quarantine and, if they were still social distancing, they can stop, according to new COVID school guidelines that are the least restrictive of the pandemic.
The CDC also says the “test to stay” programs that many schools adopted are no longer needed because the agency only recommends quarantine when exposure occurs in high-risk settings such as nursing homes and correctional facilities.
Still, educators and parents should not completely let their guard down. Over the last two years, COVID has killed more children than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined, says Dr. Vandana Madhavan, director of the pediatric infectious disease division at Mass General for Children.
“School systems really should be encouraging vaccinations and thinking about mandates,” Madhavan says. “Let’s not let the impact on children get lost in the fact that there are so many adults who have gotten severely ill.”
Even though the now-dominant BA.5 omicron variant is causing less severe illness, school leaders should be focused on stopping the spread to prevent students from having to miss school. “While the illness might be mild, having to be out of school because a child is sick is still more disruptive to their normal activities.”
The CDC leaves much of the decision-making to K-12 leaders. Administrators should focus on the benefits of keeping schools open for in-person learning when managing exposures based on community infection rates. Administrators should also consider requiring masking or testing in a classroom where the is an exposed student who cannot wear a mask properly or consistently, the agency says.
Students and staff should continue to stay home and get tested if they have COVID symptoms. Ultimately, schools are strongly encouraged to educate families about the safety of vaccines and translate those messages for parents whose first language is not English. Administrators should also host vaccination clinics at their schools or steer students, staff and families toward off-site clinics.
“One thing to remember is this isn’t spring 2020—it’s not even early 2021,” Madhavan says. “We have a lot more tools for prevention and treatment in our toolkit. The one huge message is: If your child is eligible for the vaccine, which is everyone six months and up, they should get vaccinated and boosted, if eligible.”