The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday confirmed that a new rule that shortens COVID-19 quarantine time for some people does apply to students and staff at K-12 public schools.
The news came counter to what state health officials had heard from the CDC earlier on Tuesday. Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said he had recently spoken to the CDC about that new guidance.
“They did specifically say that that recommendation does not apply to schools,” Harris said during a press briefing Tuesday.
On Wednesday the Alabama Department of Public Health sent a press release stating that on Tuesday evening the CDC clarified ADPH’s question as to whether the change applied to schools, saying that it did.
The CDC’s new guidance states that those who test positive or who is a close contact should isolate themselves for five days, and if after those five days no longer have a fever or other symptoms, isolation can end, but the CDC recommends wearing a mask for an additional five days even after quarantining ends.
“Shorter isolation (for asymptomatic and mildly ill people) for a minimum of five days focuses on the period when a person is most infectious. This is to be followed by continued masking for an additional five days,” ADPH’s press release states.
“With the recommended shorter isolation and quarantine periods, it is critical that people continue to wear well-fitting masks and take additional precautions for five days after leaving isolation or quarantine. In addition, isolation should only end if a person has been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and other symptoms have resolved,” the statement continues.
“Mask use and layered prevention strategies, such as receiving all recommended vaccination and booster doses, social distancing, screening testing and improved ventilation are key to preventing COVID-19 and decreasing transmission, CDC states,” ADPH said.
Alabama Department of Public Health’s district medical officer Dr. Wes Stubblefield said in a statement that as pediatricians they understand the extreme stress this pandemic is placing on families.
“Our best medical advice is for parents to vaccinate their age-eligible children in order to protect their children’s health and keep kids in school,” Stubblefield said.
Harris said earlier on Tuesday that the CDC has said science supports the shortened quarantine time for some, because people are most infectious in the first couple of days that they become ill,
“But they have also said that this is a concession just to the huge numbers of people who are getting infected,” Harris said. “There’s absolutely non-medical considerations that went into this, so we still think that staying home for 10 days is the best way to do it.”
Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, said Wednesday that he’s concerned about the possibility of COVID spreading in public schools “and then back-spread potentially to their parents and grandparents.”
“We still strongly support universal masking in all our K through 12 schools,” Harris said. “We strongly urge parents to have their children vaccinated as soon as they possibly can.”
Alabama’s vaccination rate for school-age children remains low. Of those aged five to 11 in the state, 9.1 percent are vaccinated against COVID, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Among 12 to 17-year olds the percentage increases to 35.1 percent.