MARIETTA, Ga. (NewsNation Now) — Schools across the country are searching for a less disruptive way to minimize risk beyond sending students home to quarantine as the wait continues for emergency use authorization for the COVID-19 vaccine for children.
“We have hundreds and hundreds of kids who are identified as close contacts who are subsequently missing school, so they shift on a moment’s notice from in-person to virtual learning,” said Grand Rivera, superintendent of Marietta City Schools in Georgia. “It’s creating hardships for families, it’s creating learning loss, it’s creating even more trauma for kids.”
Marietta City Schools is joining a growing list of districts trying out a new approach.
“We saw Massachusetts had a model that works around a modified quarantine,” Rivera said. “They call it ‘Test and Stay.’”
Test and Stay is essentially a modified quarantine that allows kids to stay in school as long as they’re tested regularly and adhere to precautions such as wearing masks and social distancing.
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If a child is identified as a school-based close contact and asymptomatic, they’re given a rapid test daily before school for seven days instead of quarantining for a week to 10 days.
“If, in fact, they test negative, then they are cleared to come to school that day,” Rivera said.
If a test comes back positive, they have to quarantine.
Schools from California to Illinois have adopted the new COVID-19 testing model.
“These tests allow us to know who is positive and who is not on a daily basis, and so everyone can sit there with much better peace of mind,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology and immunology at Harvard School of Public Health.
A study published by Lancet last week suggests the approach could be safe and effective.
“I think the numbers are compelling. You look at national research, 1 to 3% of school-based close contacts who are asymptomatic are testing positive. That means we have 97 to 99% of students who are being quarantined for seven, 10 or 14 days who, quite candidly, will never test positive,” Rivera said.
“I feel like it’s a safe alternative to keeping them out of school for quarantining, but also the best of both worlds, you know, getting them in school as much as possible, especially for the kids that don’t have COVID,” said Jessica Bergeron, a Marietta City School District parent.
While there is growing support, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not endorsed the approach and has said it needs more data before recommending it. However, the agency said it’s working closely with the districts trying it out – and is collecting more information.