students wearing face masks in a classroom
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CDC Says Masked Students Don't Need To Quarantine

Could this help keep more kids in the classroom?

As schools across the country begin to welcome students back into classrooms for a new school year, some are already grappling with quarantine-related student absences. But what if students exposed to Covid-19 didn’t have to quarantine at home for days on end? According to information tucked deep within guidance released earlier this month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), students who wear face masks may not have to quarantine at all.

Currently, the CDC recommends 14 days of quarantine for any unvaccinated person who spent 15 minutes or more within six feet of someone known to have Covid-19. But, as the 74 has reported, a little-publicized update made by the CDC earlier this year may exempt certain students from having to quarantine at home after being exposed to a Covid-19 case. On August 5, the CDC updated its definition of close contact to exempt K-12 students who were wearing face masks at the time of exposure from quarantine.

“In the K-12 indoor classroom setting, the close contact definition excludes students who were within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student (laboratory-confirmed or a clinically comparable illness) if both the infected student and the exposed student(s) correctly and consistently wore well-fitting masks the entire time,” a note in an appendix for case investigation and contact tracing guidelines read. “This exception does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in the indoor classroom setting.”

With schools across the country struggling with a high number of quarantine-related absences, the CDC’s K-12 exemption could prove helpful, at least for districts that have implemented mandatory masks. Already a number of school districts have found themselves with hundreds and even thousands of students in quarantine less than a month into the school year.

In Florida, more than 5,500 students within Hillsborough County Public Schools were reported to be in isolation or quarantine on Monday, after just four days of school. By Wednesday, the number of students in quarantine had jumped to 10,384, according to ABC News. In Nevada, more than 80 students at Marce Herz Middle School were sent home to quarantine as a result of just one Covid-19 case. A school district in New Orleans, Louisiana, has reported placing more than 3,000 students, teachers, and staff members in quarantine. In Mississippi, health officials have revealed some 20,000 students are in quarantine across the state as a result of exposure incidents, USA Today revealed.

The exemption has already spurred at least one school district to adopt a last-minute mandatory face mask policy. According to WXIX, Lakota Local Schools in Ohio’s Butler County abruptly changed its policy on masks earlier this week to require all students from pre-K to 12th-grade to wear masks along with all faculty and staff.

“We want our students to stay in school, in person,” Lakota Superintendent Matt Miller said in a recent message explaining the new mask policy to parents. “Medical professionals have shared with us that masks add an extra layer of protection, even for vaccinated individuals. By requiring face coverings, our staff and students will not only help protect one another from spreading the virus, but they will also be able to stay in school and avoid quarantine if they are identified as a close contact to a positive case.”