The New Jersey Department of Health has shortened the recommended isolation and quarantine period for students and school staff to five days, giving school districts more flexibility as COVID closes classrooms statewide.
The guidelines, issued Monday, are voluntary but continue to cause concern among some health professionals amid record numbers of cases caused by the highly infectious Omicron strain. The COVID Activity Reporting System now shows that all areas of New Jersey are experiencing red, or “very high” levels.
“The timing doesn’t seem safe to me,” said Robin Cogan, a Camden County preschool nurse and executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Nurses. But I see that both isolation and isolation are limited.Red, I can’t understand the thinking behind it.”
Health officials recommend isolating people who are sick or who have tested positive for COVID-19, and quarantining those who have been exposed to the virus. Previous New Jersey guidelines required a window of 10 days.
Nearly a third of New Jersey school districts were operating remotely last week as they deal with rising cases and staff shortages due to COVID. Most infected children experience mild symptoms. Still, the Omicron surge has seen the number of children admitted to hospitals in New Jersey in recent weeks the highest in her 22 months into the pandemic.
Gov. Phil Murphy declared a new public health emergency on Tuesday, expanding authority to require masks within schools. Murphy on Monday said students and teachers should wear masks for the “foreseeable future” given the “tsunami” of new COVID cases.
Reasons for the new COVID guidelines
The new guidelines follow recommendations issued January 4 by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention., This has also shortened the quarantine and isolation period.
New guidelines from the state health department cite the short incubation period of Omicron subspecies. This is the time between being infected and feeling symptoms, and when people are most contagious. Reports suggest that Omicron’s incubation period is 2-4 days, with previous variants having an incubation period of up to 14 days.
“Many people intend to self-isolate, but both isolation and quarantine are difficult, especially in the context of many infections being asymptomatic,” the agency said. “A shortened time frame for isolation and quarantine will focus on the period when a person is most contagious, followed by five more days of masks.”
Under the new guidelines:
- Regardless of whether they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are awaiting test results, anyone who is showing symptoms should stay home and quarantine for five days until their symptoms resolve. Five days begins after “day zero” when people start showing symptoms, so most people could face at least her six days of isolation.
- If symptoms persist, isolation should be continued until fever-free for 24 hours or symptoms improve.
- According to guidelines, people who test positive but have no symptoms must also quarantine for five days. Again, the day with a positive virus test is considered day zero. If symptoms occur before the end of the quarantine period, the clock will start for an additional 5 days, with day 0 being counted as the day symptoms began.
- Children and adults who have completed a five-day quarantine period must wear masks both at home and outdoors from the sixth to 10th day, the ministry said.
Health professionals concerned about new guidelines
The new guidelines appeared in superintendents’ inboxes just as the state was seeing an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 infections compared to the early days of the pandemic.
At schools, the number of positive cases among staff and students was relatively low last autumn, at 1.4-3 per 1,000 people, but started to rise in mid-November, with a sharp increase in late December. The number of positive cases in schools is now 29 per 1,000.
“We are concerned about limiting quarantines to five days and expecting children to wear properly-fitting masks throughout class and to wear masks at home,” said Kogan of the Nurses Association. Schools are encouraged to enforce stricter guidelines, but are not permitted to do less than what is recommended.
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The state’s new quarantine guidelines appear unchanged, except that the number of days has been cut in half to five days. Fully vaccinated adults and children, including boosters aged 12 and over, do not need to be quarantined after being in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. However, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people should continue to be quarantined.
Another significant change from existing guidelines is that parents can now determine if their child is feeling well and ready to return to school after 5 days.
“[A] The obvious change is that the symptoms are improving. It depends on the person. It’s very subjective,” Cogan said.
As a nurse, Corgan said she prefers to tell her students to come back when they’re completely fine. I want to tell you to send me back to school.
Stanley Weiss, an epidemiologist at the Rutgers School of Public Health, said state-issued guidelines were premature and that without proper personal protective equipment being used more universally, infections from the Omicron subspecies could become even more prevalent. It will spread.
Omicron’s infectiousness, combined with airborne spread, has made it essential for people to wear tight-fitting KN95 masks, Weiss said. Some adults and children who return to school infected after quarantine periods are shortened are likely to continue spreading the virus, he said, because these masks are not needed outside of medical facilities.
“This causes additional stress on our systems by helping the Omicron virus to multiply further,” Weiss said. The situation is different now because it is highly contagious in .” he added.
Schools have yet to adopt the new guidelines, but some schools are beginning to advise parents about the guidelines. said it would decide how to proceed.
New recommendations differ from published guidance by state In September, schools reopened for full face-to-face instruction for the first time in months. That guidance, called “The Road Forward,” was issued jointly by the State Department of Education and Health. This week’s update was not sent by the Department of Education. Asked why they did not jointly issue a memo, the health ministry said the guidance covers all non-medical settings, including schools.
Mary Ann Koruth is the Educator at NorthJersey.com. Subscribe today or activate your digital account for unlimited access to the latest news about schools in New Jersey and how it impacts your kids.
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