New DOH guidance, questions about remote learning and other FAQs related to testing, dashboard

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear families, students and community members,

The state Department of Health (DOH) has released new COVID-19 guidance for K12 schools and we are updating our protocols. I also wanted to answer some questions we are hearing about remote learning and other topics related to COVID. This email is long, so please take a moment to read through this update.

New guidance

The most significant changes in the state’s new guidance are around isolation and quarantine, which now align with the CDC’s recommendations. It also encourages expanding Test-to-Stay for students who have outside-of-school exposure.

Isolation applies to students and staff who test positive for COVID-19. If you test positive for COVID regardless of your vaccination status, you need to isolate at home for five days.

  • You may return to school when:
  • Five days have passed since symptom onset, or since positive test specimen collection date if no symptoms are present;  AND
  • No symptoms are present, or symptoms are resolving; AND
  • No fever within the past 24 hours

An antigen test is recommended but not required at day five. If you test and the result is positive, you must continue to isolate until day 10. If the test result is negative, you may return to school and should continue to wear a mask around others until day 10 (this affects students who are allowed to go without a mask when participating in some after-school activities).

Quarantine

Students who had exposure to COVID-19 outside of school are now eligible to participate in our Test to Stay program and may continue attending school during their five day quarantine period as long as they don’t have symptoms of illness.

 

When to return to school if you are a close contact.

  • Students who are fully vaccinated: you do not need to quarantine.
  • Students who had a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the last 90 days: you do not need to quarantine.
  • Students who are not fully vaccinated: you can participate in Test to Stay and may continue to come to school as long as you test negative. You must wear a mask at all times for 10 days and complete rapid antigen tests. Testing is best on days three and five after exposure.
  • Students not participating in Test to Stay: quarantine at home for five days. Do a rapid test on day five and return to school the next day if negative and no symptoms are present. Home rapid is not accepted. We can test at school.
  • Students choosing not to test: you should quarantine for 10 days from last exposure.

Questions about remote learning

I also wanted to address questions we have been asked about remote learning. We saw a few districts move to remote learning for a couple of days last week, a combination of weather and staffing challenges.  Some universities in our region made similar decisions to temporarily go remote to give time for students and staff to get COVID tests.

The state has asked districts to have remote learning plans in place in case they are needed, such as due to potential staffing challenges, but our primary goal is to keep schools open, as we know that our students are better served in person. Superintendent Chris Reykdal spoke on Friday about this topic and said OSPI does not expect we will experience statewide school closures like those in 2020.

We will continue to plan in case remote learning is temporarily needed for a class or a school, but at this time we are not going fully remote. We will continue to take weather, COVID and other challenges day-by-day, so thank you as always for your patience and understanding.

 

Testing, dashboard and notification updates

It’s all hands-on deck for testing. Rapid antigen tests are available at all schools and can be used for staff and students who have symptoms, are a close contact, Test to Stay, and athletic screening. Huge thanks to all who are helping out with testing. PCR testing is still available at most schools and the Shuksan Family Resource Center, but we are focusing more on rapid antigen testing given the benefits of quick identification of infectious persons.

Due to the volume of COVID cases and work related to testing, we are making some changes to our communications to families and staff.

  • We will continue to call families to get permission to test as needed for symptoms or Test to Stay.  Close contact communication will continue to happen via the phone, but we are not sending emails.
  • We have made some revisions to our COVID dashboard to include all cases at each site that were there while contagious (not just those with close contacts). The number of cases at each site may be higher than usual, but this helps increase transparency and decrease message fatigue with template emails that are not getting read.

If you have questions, you can email me or bps.health@bellinghamschools.org.

Greg Baker