Standard operating procedures for Maine schools regarding COVID-19 recently changed to reflect amendments to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, according to an announcement from the Maine CDC and the Maine Department of Education on Dec. 30.
The minimum quarantine period for students who test positive for COVID-19 or who are identified as a close contact is cut to five days, with the additional requirement that those students stay masked in public for five days after leaving quarantine.
Lincoln County schools returned to classes on Jan. 3 following winter break, and with winter vacation lasting more than 10 days, students who were quarantining before then were able to return to school even in accordance with the former 10-day quarantine requirement.
Students who received a booster vaccination, are fully vaccinated, or are participating in pool testing do not need to quarantine under the guidelines if they do not have symptoms, but masks are recommended for 10 days after exposure.
Prior to the update, standard operating procedures dictated that those identified as close contacts or who contracted COVID-19 must quarantine for a minimum of 10 days following exposure or a positive test.
The Maine CDC will no longer consider exposure to COVID-19 in outdoor settings or on school buses, where the federal government requires that masks be worn, a “close contact.”
Additionally, the Maine CDC has changed its definition of a COVID-19 outbreak to align with the definitions of outbreaks for other diseases, such as influenza. The Maine CDC will only open an investigation if more than 15% of a school population is absent due to transmission.
Previously, standard operating procedures defined an outbreak as three or more confirmed cases from different households linked by classroom, school, event, or another space within a 14-day period.
These revisions come on the heels of the national CDC’s revision to its isolation recommendations for all individuals in the U.S. on Dec. 27. The loosening of these guidelines is part of the state’s overall goal of keeping as many students in schools as possible as much as possible.
According to a Dec. 30 news release, the Maine DOE and CDC are both seeking input from school administrators regarding changes that might need to be made to the standard operating procedures.
On Jan. 4, AOS 93 Superintendent Craig Jurgensen said that he just wants clarification and simplification of the increasingly complex guidelines.
As different vaccines, tests, boosters, and mitigation strategies are implemented to combat COVID-19 transmission in schools and in daily life, school administrators have been tasked with applying different rules to each student based on increasingly varied criteria.
At the same time, changing definitions of keystone terms during the pandemic like “outbreak” and “universal masking” have forced school boards and administrative teams to spend an excessive amount of time parsing language.
“When we think we have something in place and then the definition shifts on us, the entire foundation of what we know moves a little bit,” Jurgensen said.
He said the announcement of the standard operating procedure changes on Dec. 30 sent the Central Lincoln County School District administrators “scrambling” to prepare for Jan. 3.
AOS 93 includes seven towns – Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Jefferson, Newcastle, Nobleboro, and South Bristol. Among the seven towns are five elementary schools – Bristol Consolidated School, Great Salt Bay Community School, Jefferson Village School, Nobleboro Central School, and South Bristol School.
State superintendents met with Maine Commissioner of Education Pender Makin on Jan. 3 to ask clarifying questions regarding the changes. Jurgensen is in the process of discussing the changes with each school committee in the district at their meetings this week and in the coming weeks.
There are no schools in the AOS 93 school district actively participating in pool testing; however, the Jefferson Village School Committee voted to apply to participate in pool testing at its meeting on Jan. 3 and will begin soliciting consent for student participation from parents.
JVS is the only AOS 93 school that does not mandate masking indoors. However, the school committee accepted the quarantine guidelines as outlined in the revised standard operating procedures at its Jan. 3 meeting, as well. This means that students who return to in-person learning after a five-day quarantine must still wear a mask in the school for five additional days.
“There was a change in quarantine… and we’re trying to really work through what that means, understanding that the full and well announced intention of the new standard operating procedures and the changes from the CDC is to keep kids safe and healthy and learning in person, and we’ve always agreed with that” Jurgensen said.
To access the most current standard operating procedures made available by the DOE, go to maine.gov/doe/covid-19/sop.