New CDC guidelines: no need to test or quarantine students without symptoms

Kindergarteners wear masks while listening to their teacher amid the COVID-19 pandemic at Washington Elementary School in Lynwood on Jan. 12, 2022. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer recommends that schools test students without symptoms to screen for COVID, nor quarantine students who have been exposed to the virus but have no symptoms.

It isn’t clear whether the California Department of Public Health will change its guidelines, which recommend that schools require students with known exposure to COVID to wear a tight-fitting mask for 10 days and be tested three to five days after exposure in order to stay in school.

In most cases, California school districts and county departments of public health have the last say when it comes to COVID protocols, but most follow California Department of Public Health recommendations.

The new CDC guidelines recommend that COVID testing only be required before high-risk activities like close contact sports or musical performances, or before proms, graduations, tournaments or group travel. It also recommends testing for vaccinated and unvaccinated people before the return to school or after school breaks.

The new federal guidelines say districts should establish strategies to prevent COVID and other respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, including requiring students who contract infections to stay home. The guidance still recommends schools require students with symptoms to test and isolate or mask if they test positive.

The new guidance focuses on community levels of infection to help schools and individuals make decisions about COVID precautions. The CDC recommends that schools add layers of protection as rates increase and remove them when levels go down.

“This guidance provides flexibility so schools and ECE (early childhood education) programs can adapt to changing local situations, including periods of increased community health impacts from COVID-19,” stated the guidance.

Instead of focusing on testing and quarantines, the new guidance recommends that schools improve ventilation and cleaning at schools and promote vaccinations and respiratory etiquette.

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