OLATHE, Kan. — While mask mandates have been top-of-mind during school board meetings in Johnson County, another COVID-related policy is also returning to the fore.
That topic: quarantining and isolation rules.
The masking questions are more straightforward to answer. But when people start looking at the rules for isolation and quarantine the information is more in the weeds and includes caveats about vaccination status, COVID-testing schedules, and potential contract tracing.
For a full breakdown – look at the last two pages of this flowchart from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.
Last school year the general rule across districts in Kansas was that students and staff would need to quarantine after an exposure – an unmasked meeting between the unvaccinated (which everyone was at the time) happening within 6 feet of each other for 15 minutes.
Now the formula has been tweaked.
“The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment does not recommend quarantining symptom-free individuals when they have had a close contact exposure if both parties were wearing masks,” Anjanette Tolman, Executive Director of Special Services at Olathe Public Schools, said during last Thursday’s meeting of their Board of Education.
“The other big change is that we will not actually be asking staff to contact trace if there are universal masking policies in place unless there are two or more cases within a single classroom within 14 days,” Elizabeth Holzschuh, Director of Epidemiology for JCDHE, said.
Still, unvaccinated students and staff leave themself more at-risk of quarantine under JCDHE guidelines.
Following a close-contact maskless exposures of an unvaccinated individuals – that person will need to quarantine for fourteen days, according to JCDHE guidelines for schools.
To come back earlier it is more complex. A student or staff member will need a negative COVID-19 test on day 6 or after – and have no symptoms. Those people can return to schools after eight days.
If no testing is desired, an asymptomatic individual may return on day eleven.
Dr. Michael Lewis, Director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in the University of Kansas Health System, explained during a Monday livestream the possible cascade effect – leading to a break-down of in person learning if masks are removed from the equation.
“If a child comes to school on Monday, and the entire classroom is not masked, and the kid might feel fine Monday and then Monday night not feel so well,” Dr. Lewis said.
“Tuesday – maybe has a fever, little bit of a cough and gets tested and is positive for COVID…without any of the precautions that we saw allow kids to be in school very successfully last year, now we’re going to have a 14 day possibly quarantine for the entire classroom without all of the infrastructure for all of the online education that we saw our school districts rally to do last year,” Lewis said.