Washington schools must offer option of seven-day quarantine with negative test

Nov 1, 2021, 8:39 AM
schools, quarantine, vaccine students...
First grade students at the Green Mountain School practice social distancing during recesses in Woodland, Washington. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Washington schools will be required to offer families a seven-day quarantine option with a negative test after COVID-19 exposure at school.

Nearly 90% of Washington’s public school employees vaccinated against COVID

That option offers students a chance to return on the eighth day if they’ve also had a negative test.

“We will be requiring schools to offer families the seven-day with negative test quarantine option so that students can return to class more quickly,” said Lacy Fahrenbach, deputy secretary for COVID response with the Washington State Department of Health.

Schools have had that option before, but now it must be offered.

Quarantine is when someone who has been exposed to COVID-19 stays home and away from others in case they were infected and are contagious. For close contacts in a school setting who are not exempt from quarantine, there are four options as outlined by the state DOH. In the latest update, schools and districts now must use one or a combination of the first two options.

Option one is the seven-day with negative test quarantine for students and staff. Quarantine can end after seven full days beginning after the last close contact if no symptoms have developed and after receiving a negative test result. Option two is a seven-day “test to stay” modified quarantine, which is available to schools or districts with an approved “test to stay” protocol in place.

For those who choose not to test or do not get tested, the options are a 10-day or 14-day quarantine.

So far this school year, Fahrenbach says about 6% of all Washington state’s public and private schools have reported COVID outbreaks, and reports have been dropping this month.

Between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30 of this year, a new report from the state DOH shows that 189 COVID outbreaks occurred in K-12 schools. Of those, 42 were in August and 147 in September.

The median size of an outbreak was five individuals. The majority of outbreaks were in public schools (167) versus private schools (22). The most outbreaks were associated with grade schools at 120, with 48 in middle schools, and 55 in high schools. Of Washington’s 39 counties, 18 counties have reported outbreaks associated with schools this fall.

For the 2021-2022 school year, the state DOH updated the school outbreak definition. Previously, the case count threshold to meet outbreak definition was two epidemiologically linked cases. In order to better align with national standards, the threshold has been raised this year to three cases or 10% of a specified core group as defined in the K-12 School Outbreak Report.

FDA paves way for Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations in young kids

“While we never want to see an outbreak occur in a school setting, the relatively small size of outbreaks is an indication that schools are working very hard to respond when there are cases among students, teachers, staff,” Fahrenbach said in a written release. “Getting young children vaccinated as soon as we are able will add the strongest protection possible. Everyone who is able to get vaccinated should do so now to offer protection to young kids who are not yet eligible.”

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report.

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Washington schools must offer option of seven-day quarantine with negative test