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Keeping kids who are close contacts of COVID-19 cases in class, not quarantined at home

An innovative program launches to increase in-person learning during the pandemic.

A new pilot program helps students stay in class during COVID-19.

The White River School District has developed an innovative program to safely continue in-person learning for students who are close contacts of a COVID-19 positive student.

From June 9-17, the district will pilot a modified approach to quarantine based on COVID-19 activity in the school environment.

When a student is a close contact of someone who’s COVID-19 positive, students and families have the option for the student to remain in class if the student meets these conditions:

  • Continue to have no symptoms based on daily health checks.
  • Agree to a rapid antigen COVID-19 test on day 3, 5, 7 and 10.
  • Follow quarantine guidance at home.
  • Refrain from high-risk activities (athletics, performing arts, etc.).

Fully vaccinated students don’t need to quarantine from class or activities. Also, students can still quarantine at home for the required 10  days in lieu of testing.

The school district has worked in partnership with Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, the State Department of Health, and Gov. Inslee’s office to pilot this modified quarantine strategy for the final week of the school year.

Data showed many missed days, few positive cases.

Over the last six weeks, the district collected and analyzed COVID-19 data and the effects of current response protocols. The district of 3,800 students had 48 positive cases in that period. Those cases resulted in more than 400 close contacts. The district found those students who tested positive were not transmitting the disease in the classroom.

Based on current guidance, hundreds of students had to miss days of classroom instruction—about 4-8 days depending on their exposure date—because of the requirement to quarantine at home.

Some students had to quarantine at home multiple times simply because of the person they happened to sit next to.

One straight-A sophomore who plays basketball, for example, was a close contact 3 times but never tested positive. That student missed 16 days of school and 3 basketball games.

Modified quarantine is a game changer.

After more than a year of uncertainty, more students will be able to continue their education uninterrupted under the pilot program.

“This pilot program is reason to celebrate,” said White River School District Superintendent Janel Keating Hambly. “This will help us to keep more kids in the classroom, and we will continue to monitor our data closely,” she said.

Along with testing, the district’s adherence to public health guidance—daily health checks, mask wearing, maintaining 3 feet of distance —have proven to be effective tools to keep students, faculty, and staff healthy and safe.

“White River School District has done their homework to ensure modified quarantine is the right and safe option,” said Anthony L-T Chen, MD, MPH. “They remain motivated to do what is best for students, and we support their dedication,” he said.

The district informed staff about the pilot program on June 7. Students and families found out on June 9. The district expressed desire to participate in this pilot based on concerns they heard from families.

The Health Department will help the district assess the effectiveness of the modified quarantine pilot once complete. Based on the findings, we may recommend other school districts implement the approach in the fall.

White River was one of the school districts to participate in our school-based COVID-19 testing pilot last fall. Learn more.