That’s because many districts follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which are more lenient about who should be quarantined in K-12 schools than in other settings. Inside schools, only unvaccinated children who are within six feet and unmasked, or within three feet and masked, should be quarantined, and only if they have been exposed for more than 15 minutes over the course of a day, according to the CDC Since most districts require masks and aim for a distance of three feet, it’s less likely that even students in the same class will qualify.
Public health experts have said it is safe, especially when it comes to balancing the risks of keeping children out of school for longer.
“I think we should let the exposed children come to school, if they were actually wearing their masks,” said Dr. Danielle Zerr, division chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Seattle Children’s Hospital, who has said masks and vaccines for everyone eligible in the lives of students are the most important for preventing Covid in schools.
Due to the guidelines, quarantines have been relatively rare in many places. In Denver public schools, 0.4% of students are quarantined, according to the latest data. In Nashville, where the infection rate is four times that of Denver, 4.3% of public school students are quarantined. Both school systems started in August.
Some districts are even more lenient than the CDC recommends. Twenty-eight – including in Austin, Texas; Hawaii; and Sacramento – exempt students from quarantine as long as they wear masks. Of the eight major Florida districts listed in the database, seven allow students to return from quarantine as early as two to five days after exposure. Miami-Dade County public schools require a 10-day quarantine.
Again, New York is an exception. Entire elementary classrooms will be quarantined if anyone in the class tests positive. While this is one of the more cautious approaches, it is more lenient than district policy last year, when two cases shut down entire schools.
Districts are trying to avoid widespread quarantines, which have been a major disruption to children’s education. They are also a source of uncertainty for parents; some say they can’t return to work if they unexpectedly have to be home with their children for two weeks.