Bulloch County’s school system has changed its infectious disease protocols in a way that makes quarantining optional for students and school employees who do not exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 but come into contact with a confirmed case at school.
A media release issued Monday morning by Hayley Greene, the Bulloch County Schools public relations director, states that the county school district updated its protocols “based upon the latest guidance.” Officials began implementing the new rules Wednesday evening after notifying school administrators, school nurses, and district supervisors, she wrote.
That was during the first week of the 2021-22 school year, Aug. 2-6, when the Bulloch County Schools saw 67 COVID-19 cases among 12 of the 15 schools and at two other district facilities. The school system’s weekly report at www.bulloch.k12.ga.us/covid19report also noted 385 “close contacts” as having occurred with these cases.
Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson, quoted in Monday’s release, referred to changes in guidance issued by the Georgia Department of Public Health, or DPH.
"Our protocols have continued to evolve with ongoing state guidance updates and with what we have learned about general infectious illnesses in schools, good health practices, and personal health responsibility," Wilson said. "We will continue to implement our Return-to-School Plan and implement DPH requirements to the best of our ability and as reasonably as possible, while we also balance the overall safety and academic and social-emotional wellbeing of our students.”
The release identified the modification of quarantine requirements for “close contacts” exposed to a confirmed COVID case while at school as “the key change” in the latest update of Bulloch County Schools practices.
“If the point of exposure occurred at school, employees and students no longer have to quarantine, whether they are vaccinated or not, as long as they remain asymptomatic,” the announcement stated.
The school system’s release also quoted Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Georgia DPH commissioner, who in turn had referred to guidance from the national CDC.
"Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on quarantine remains the safest way to protect teachers and students from the spread of COVID-19," Toomey said.
But she added that the Georgia DPH recognizes “the importance of in-person learning."
The DPH on its website further stated that “schools may elect to adhere to different quarantine requirements as developed by the local school district to facilitate in-person learning.”
Contacts at school
But the DPH guidance confined that freedom of choice to individuals for whom “the point of exposure occurred in the school setting and as long as they remain asymptomatic."
So, students or school employees who came into close contact with someone with COVID-19 at home or somewhere else instead of at school are apparently still required to quarantine.
Bulloch County school administrators are notifying employees and parents of students who were in current quarantine due to exposures at school that they now have a choice of how they follow quarantine guidance, Greene reported.
Employees, or parents on behalf of students, may choose to follow the current 7-, 10-, or 14-day quarantine practices, or to remain at work or school as long as they have no symptoms of illness.
The school district, Greene stated, has a team of 17 nurses who identify anyone who becomes sick at school and send them home until they are cleared to return.
Stay home if sick“This moves us closer to how we handle other infectious illnesses in our schools, like influenza, chicken pox and strep," Wilson said. "We absolutely want people to stay home if they are sick, and we depend upon families to exercise personal responsibility to monitor their health before they come to work or school.”
Student absences are excused for COVID-related quarantines and illness, and distance learning is provided for face-to-face students who are absent or quarantined.
“These updated protocols give families back their ability to make responsible personal health choices in relation to their school environment,” Wilson said.
School nurses will notify the Department of Public Health immediately when a positive case is identified and provide DPH a weekly report of COVID cases, quarantines and clusters amongst employees and students in the school district, the announcement stated.
The school district has a Daily Health Self-Check flier and webpage as part of its Return to School Plan, online through www.bulloch.k12.ga.us and available at each school.