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Schools drop mask rules, loosen isolation & contact tracing rules

by Kate Evans

Update:

The Morgan County Board of Education on Tuesday, February 15 voted 5-0 to lift their mask mandate for students and staff, making masks optional in classrooms and on school buses and in school facilities. As the story states below, this policy was up for discussion on the school board’s agenda. As of today, February 16, students and staff could choose if they would wear a face covering while attending school and working in the school buildings. Full coverage of the Tuesday night school board discussion will be posted later.

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Morgan County Schools has kept the current mask rules in place but updated their COVID-19 recovery guidelines based on the guidelines issued on January 31 by the West Virginia Board of Education and the West Virginia Board of Public Health.

The updated state guidelines have been posted on the county school website.

The school board was set to review and possibly take action on Morgan County Schools COVID recovery guidelines involving contact tracing and face masks at their February 15 meeting at Widmyer Elementary.

Morgan County Schools officials noted online that they still have a universal mask policy in all of their buildings and that they would follow the guidance for universal mask policy districts.

They also stressed that the guidelines could change at any time.  Face masks could be addressed in the future as cases go down, they said.

Currently, masks are required in all school buildings and on buses as long as local transmission of COVID remains “high,” which is more than 20 new cases in a week.

Changes

According to information on the county school website, these COVID recovery protocol changes have been adopted:

“With universal masking, only   individuals with reported positive cases of COVID-19 and those experiencing symptoms need to quarantine. Exposures at school are no longer required to quarantine unless they experience symptoms.

Schools will no longer conduct contact tracing and parents will no longer receive exposure calls. Families are being told they should monitor students for symptoms daily.

“If students or staff are sick, they should stay home. COVID testing is available in the county should an individual want tested,” the protocols say.

“Students will no longer be quarantined due to possible exposure to COVID. This includes during breakfast, lunch, and extra-curricular activities. Possible exposure outside of school will not trigger a quarantine,” the rules say.

Athletes

Athletes who are positive for COVID-19 are still told to remain isolated for five full days.

“On day 5, the athlete may test and if that test is negative, they are able to return to unmasked play on day 6 or after. Without a test, an athlete may return to practice on day 6, but must remain masked at all times through day 10 and will not be allowed to participate in unmasked activities or games.”

What’s the same

The updated guidelines stress that students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 should stay home for at least five
days and isolate from others.

They may return to school if they stayed home and isolated for at least 5 full days, are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications, their symptoms are improving or they are asymptomatic.   Individuals who were severely ill or immunocompromised should stay home and isolate for 10 days, school officials say.

Parents are required to send an absence note to school when their child returns explaining the reason for their absence.

COVID reports, closures

County school districts are now required to report the number of COVID-19 positive staff and students for the prior week (Sunday to Saturday) to an online Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) portal that measures the COVID percent positivity.

West Virginia county school districts are now required to report the number of COVID cases for the prior week (Sunday through Saturday) to the state Department of Health and Human Resources portal. Morgan County Schools released this chart showing their COVID cases and percent positivity data for each school for the week of February 3-10.

Morgan County Schools will report this information weekly on their school app and on social media, said officials.

Schools may consider closing for five days in consultation with their local health department if their COVID-19 percent positivity exceeds 20% on the weekly report or if they’re unable to keep a safe school environment with the number of staff out due to COVID.

Five-day closures require all extra-curricular events to be cancelled/postponed. Schools
that need to close for a day or two due to staffing may conduct extra-curricular events based on their county-level policies.

Key state  strategies

State guideline information components include vaccination, a universal mask policy, reduced times for quarantine and isolation and home testing options. Vaccination for those eligible to get a vaccine is considered the most effective mitigation strategy.

“These practices are important to not only guard against COVID-19, but also the spread of other infections such as the flu and the common cold,” said state officials.

Masking

“The CDC recommends a universal indoor mask policy for all students (ages 2 and older), teachers, staff and visitors regardless of vaccination status. At a minimum, universal mask policy should apply when community transmission is high or substantial as defined by the CDC,” according to state guidelines.

This document noted that “recent studies have shown that schools without a universal indoor mask policy were 3.5 times more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks and pediatric cases rates
were smaller in U.S. counties when a universal mask policy was in place.”

With a universal mask policy, contact tracing would no longer be required for times when students aren’t wearing masks such as lunch, gym, or during extracurricular activities.

State officials said that parents and guardians should be notified when a positive case of COVID-19 is reported in the classroom or school so they can monitor their child for signs and symptoms.

2 Comments

  1. Sean R. Bartley on February 16, 2022 at 6:39 am

    This article is incorrect. The mask mandate was lifted. Parents have the choice whether or not to have their children wear a mask. I don’t see how it’s possible to be this wrong on a topic.

    • Editor on February 16, 2022 at 7:23 am

      The story was printed and posted on Tuesday afternoon. The school board vote to make masks optional was made on Tuesday night. The story has been updated to reflect that action.

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