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Ohio Department of Health offers 'Mask to Stay' and 'Test to Play' as new school quarantine guidance

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Posted at 9:41 AM, Oct 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-25 23:17:04-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Health announced Monday new guidelines on quarantine procedures that schools in Ohio and parents may choose to follow.

OHD Medical Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff announced two options for quarantine, both of which have an in-person alternative rather than out-of-school quarantine.

“It's important to note that schools are not required to adopt these policies. Parents can opt-out if they desire,” Vanderhoff said.

The first option “Mask to Stay” would allow a student to participate in the classroom following a COVID-19 exposure in a classroom or other school setting.

Students with known exposure to COVID19 may stay in the classroom if they do the following:

  • Wear a mask for 14 days following their last know day of exposure.
  • Self-monitor or have a parent monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Isolate and get tested if they start to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, regardless of the severity.
  • Students and staff may discontinue after seven days if no symptoms develop and students test negative between day five and day seven.

The second option “Test of Play” applies to sports and extracurriculars following exposure in the classroom.

Students with known exposure to COVID-19 may continue playing sports if:

  • Asymptomatic contacts may continue sports when wearing a mask in situations when possible. Situations include transportation on the team bus, in the locker room, and sitting or standing on the sidelines.
  • Students should test on initial notification of exposure to COVID-19
  • Test again sometime between day five and day seven
  • If students test negative at the time, they can resume normal activities

Vanderhoff said tests can be either PCR or antigen, but they should be proctored or observed, meaning they can’t be an over-the-counter test that’s entirely self-administered.

“When it comes to test to play, school districts should consider same-day testing for athletic competitions where there's a potential for school sports future,” Vanderhoff said.

Vanderhoff said those who consistently wear masks in school and those who are fully vaccinated can already remain in the classroom and they're exposed to COVID-19 in a school setting.

The guidance only applies to school-related exposure in a classroom setting because it’s based on the data available “in an environment [school] we understand well,” Vanderhoff said. It's also based on results from a pilot program at a school in Warren County where the guidelines were followed.

"In fact, most of the cases and most of the transmission that appears to be happening in our pediatric age group appear to be happening outside school, happening when they are out and about and involved in non-school and non-school-related activities. So that's the reason that we can safely offer this mask alternative for our students to continue in classroom learning and cannot as confidently apply it in other settings," Vanderhoff said.

News 5 reached out to local school district leaders to see if any districts would be implementing the new guidelines.

Parma City Schools Superintendent Charles Smialek said district leaders would like to meet with local health leaders, including the Cuyahoga County Board of Health before any changes are made. The district is under a mask-mandate, which Smialek said drastically reduced the number of in-school-exposure and quarantine numbers, however, if a student is exposed to COVID-19 in school, that student has to quarantine outside of the classroom for 10 days or seven with a negative test.

"Do you want to change something that, quite frankly, has resulted in more kids in school and less kids being sick? I mean, that's where we are right now," he said. We're going to gather as much information as possible in the next 24 hours and lend some clarity for our families."

He said his goal remains the same, though, to keep students learning inside the classroom as much as possible.

"Ultimately, if we have an avenue to keep students in school, we're going to exercise that avenue so that that is the appealing part of what they announced today," said Smialek.

Robert Hardis is the superintendent of Beachwood City Schools. He said, for the most part, the 'Mask to Stay' guideline is what students in his district are already doing when they've been exposed to COVID-19 in the classroom.

"Because we have universal masking students have, already even after close contact, vaccinated or unvaccinated, are continuing in school so that doesn’t really represent much of a change for us," said Hardis. But he said he would like to look a bit closer at both the 'Mask to Stay' and 'Test to Play.'

"I’ve read through the guidelines. I think there are a few key pieces, at least for us, we'd like some clarity on," he said.

A representative with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District provided News 5 with a statement that read:

We think the Mask to Stay and Test to Play policies will have limited impact on CMSD because of our universal mask requirement and the steps we have taken to make voluntary COVID testing available in our schools.

Schools are considered to be low-transmission environments. And students and staff who wear masks are identified as close contacts at school only in limited circumstances. The new guidance will allow those who are found to be close contacts to remain in school or on the court or field if they meet the requirements.

If an athlete or other student wants to be tested, we have started voluntary testing in some schools and plan to expand the practice across the district. The Test to Play policy can serve as an incentive for parents to sign the required consent forms.

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