Keeping kids in school is a huge relief for parents

The plight of parents during the COVID-19 era has trumped other issues this year as schools reopened and Zoom classrooms with kitchen counters largely became an unhappy memory. But it was not all easy.

Vaccinations for children under 12 recently gained federal approval, so this cohort has for the most part been unprotected in schools. Even with mask warrants and an understanding that COVID affects young people much less severely than older people, concerns have persisted.

These concerns have manifested themselves in frequent quarantine orders. When a person in a child’s classroom tests positive for COVID, school officials typically begin the contact tracing process to see who that person has been in close contact with. Depending on what they find, other people may be invited to stay home for a period of time, whether or not they are sick.

This is an example of school systems doing their best to keep everyone safe. A key to public health measures from the start has been to stop the spread, which means limiting contact with people who may have been exposed to the virus.

But it’s incredibly stressful for parents. Even if their children are well protected and have not engaged in any risky behavior, they could be told to quarantine themselves and miss school for several days. These notifications come like a flash, each day resulting in a call from the school that a child should stay home.

This in turn may require huge adjustments. For working parents, this can mean taking time off or finding daycare, often without notice. It’s part of our COVID reality, but causing huge disruption.

A policy recently announced by Governor Ned Lamont and his team of public health officials should go a long way in changing this system.

With the roll-out of the Screen and Stay initiative, students identified as close contact with someone known to be a case of COVID-19 but not yet vaccinated will be able to stay in school if they wear masks and do not develop symptoms. This would also apply to staff members, which would help reduce absences and reduce the need for replacements, which have been scarce in many districts.

There are a number of qualifications – this only applies to contacts at school, not extracurricular activities, and everyone should remain asymptomatic, among other provisions. But it gives school districts some necessary flexibility and helps protect public health without disrupting people’s lives. It is a great victory for parents and students.

Lamont also hinted that mask warrants in schools may be on the way out. That moment will come eventually, but it’s the right decision to keep the masking rules in place for now. Especially as the holidays approach, extracurricular transmission is likely to increase and the colder weather will keep more people indoors. Masks are less than ideal, but they help slow the spread of a deadly disease.

The era of COVID is not over. There are still adjustments we need to make to make sure the next wave never happens. But every step we can take to get back to normal is important.

About Colin Shumway

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