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State education officials have released modified rules for quarantining upon close contacts within school buildings that Worcester County Public Schools officials are looking into.

The automatic 14-day quarantine requirement for anyone who is a close contact of a covid-positive person in county public school classrooms could be on the way out the door.

Following studies that show “extremely low risk” of covid transmissions in classroom settings among fully masked individuals, officials with the state health and education departments have come up with a set of modified rules for quarantining.

And Worcester County Public Schools officials are considering them.

“We are looking at those options for modified quarantining but the modified quarantines only apply to students who are a student-to-student close contact and when they are both fully masked,” said Lauren Williams, the coordinator of school health services for the Worcester County Board of Education.

“It’s really not a major change but anything we can do to help our students stay in school and not have to quarantine if they can safely do so, we’re exploring those options.”

According to the modified quarantine options listed on the Maryland Department of Health website, “a 14-day quarantine period remains the safest option to reduce the risk of in-school transmission.”

However, the report said that in-school transmission needs to be balanced with “the negative impact of prolonged and repeated quarantine on students and staff.” In turn, state health and education department officials are allowing schools to modify their approaches to quarantining.

A total of three modified quarantine options exist, which would all require everyone to be fully masked, and in some cases would require more testing.

The options are:

• Test-to-stay — The most recommended option outside of the 14-day quarantine, this allows students who are asymptomatic who are a close contact of someone in school or on a bus to get out of quarantine if he or she tests negative for at least five days and remains asymptomatic.

• Implementation of weekly screen testing — This option reportedly “poses risk for in-school covid-19 transmission,” but provides weekly tests so that close contacts of students who test negative would not have to quarantine. The goal is to identify asymptomatic positive students, but may not identify them all, which is a concern.

• Mask protection — This option is the least recommended, but would essentially allow any close contact, if both people are wearing masks, to not have to quarantine if they are asymptomatic.

Williams said the options are under advisement in the county public school system, but she does not know if any will be implemented. She also pointed out that the rules would only apply to close contacts in school, not outside in the community, thus 14-day quarantines would still be required in those cases.

“There’s close contact in the community, which often occurs in a household or in a situation where students are not masked,” she explained. “And those kinds of close contacts would not be eligible for those modified quarantines that the state is talking about.”

Williams also said that she does not have data on how often students test positive once they are quarantined, and said that the usage of other mitigation strategies — such as distancing and mask wearing — also makes a difference.

At Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, Amanda Evans, the director of admissions and advancement, said the same state quarantine guidelines are currently followed. However, she said officials are always reevaluating processes to make sure they are serving the students and staff as well as possible.

“It has not been ideal for anyone, but we are doing our very best to keep our students in school within our walls,” she said of the 14-day quarantine rule. “When that is not possible, our teachers, administration and families are working together to eliminate any disruptions in learning.”

For more information on the modified quarantine options, visit health.maryland.gov/phpa/Documents/K12%20School%20and%20Childcare%20COVID-19%20Guidance_10.27.21.pdf

This story appears in the print edition of the OC Today on Nov. 12.

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