My kids returned to school in person in early September. This week we got the dreaded email we hoped never to see: “someone in the school has tested positive for COVID-19.”. I work at my children’s school. A few days after the email, I received a text from my co-teacher saying that two of our kids were exposed to COVID on the school bus, and they are currently in quarantine. If they don’t show symptoms, they can come back in 7 days. The next day, we found out my son’s best friend was in quarantine because he was exposed to COVID in the before-school program. Luckily for us, we didn’t get the separate letter to say we needed to quarantine because we were not directly contacting whoever was exposed. The point of this introductory paragraph is that in our school, exposures are happening pretty frequently, which is scary.
Tons of questions have entered my mind: if the kids in my class were exposed and I was around them, do I have to quarantine them? If my son’s best friend was around him after being exposed, does he need to quarantine? Was the person who exposed my student on the bus a student or the adult bus driver? If it was the driver, was he/she fully vaccinated (although the answer is yes because K-12 staff must be vaccinated). One of the biggest questions I have is: if these exposures and positive cases continue to stack up, at what point will schools close and go solely online again? With all these questions in mind, I did some research. Here is some info that I found regarding covid exposure and kids in Oregon schools.
One of the essential pieces of info I found through the Oregon Health Authority website reads: “any person who has been in close contact with someone who was exposed to covid does NOT need to quarantine. Quarantine is only advised for a person who has been in close contact with a CASE (someone confirmed to have covid). That answers my question about me and my students and my son and his best friend, whew!
An interesting tidbit from the same website is that the exposure guidelines have shifted due to newfound info. The exposure guidelines are used to state that if a student is within 6 feet of someone who has been confirmed or presumptive covid case for 15 minutes or more, they have been exposed. But now, if that setting included people with well-fitting masks and universal health guidelines like handwashing and sanitizing: it does not count as an exposure. Note: the “non-exposure” rule only counts for students in a K-12 setting, not staff and adults. Also, if a child is fully vaccinated, they do not need to quarantine, although they need to watch for symptoms for 14 days.
I am relieved to see that a weekly report is published that relays school info relating to covid case counts by school (student and staff/volunteers). The goal of the reporting website is to be transparent to families who are worried about outbreaks near them. Here is a link to the most recent list for the week of September 29th: https://www.oregon.gov/ode/students-and-family/healthsafety/Documents/Weekly-Outbreak-COVID-19-Report%20September%2029.pdf.
The communication plan for an outbreak will likely differ according to each district, but an example looks something like this: 1) families notify the school if a student has tested positive. 2) the school nurse and/or principal are notified. 3) the admin works promptly on contact tracing to see who the student has been in close contact with during their infectious period. 4) the infected student and close contacts are ordered to quarantine for a certain number of days while watching for symptoms. If close contacts develop symptoms, they are to be tested. 5) the principal notifies the student body and their families, and the district office.
Another question I have that I couldn’t find an answer to is if a student is asked to quarantine due to exposure, do they have an option to attend school online for that period of time? I work in a special education/life-skills classroom, and I am sad to say that our two students that have seven days off due to quarantine are not getting any school time via online learning. I wonder if general education students have anything available to them during quarantine.
Exposure guidelines will likely vary throughout different districts, but quarantine is likely to be the best option for those exposed. I can imagine taking a significant amount of time off is very frustrating for working parents, primarily if their kiddos test negative and still can’t head back to school. It also has to be frustrating for kids who are happy to be back in school, feeling healthy, and then suddenly asked to leave for a week or more because they have been exposed to a positive case. I keep thinking about my sweet, quarantined students who are just watching the school buses roll by without stopping to pick them up. Although I have sympathy for these situations, I am so glad that schools are taking action with contact tracing and trying to stop the spread.
My best advice, again, to do your part on slowing this pandemic down is to 1) keep your student home if they’re sick, 2) get students tested if they are showing signs of covid 3) stay current on school and district covid info 4) keep up on the mask-wearing, hand-washing, social-distancing, and sanitizing 5) get vaccinated if possible—best of luck to you all in evading covid exposure at school.
Stephanie McCoy was born and raised in Portland, Oregon-where she still lives. She recently graduated with a Master’s in Education degree from Concordia University. In her free time: she likes to read and write, get outdoors, embrace her kiddos and husband, and watch travel documentaries.