COVID-19 Protocol Eased at Lakeland Union High School
As early as next week, Lakeland Union High School will no longer require students who come in close contact with a COVID 19-infected person to home quarantine for 14 days before returning to school, according to a school official.
District administrator Rob Way announced the timeline Wednesday after the school board voted 6-3 Monday to adopt the new covid protocol presented by school nurse Kathy Reimer. Nine parents also spoke out against the current policy of two weeks home quarantine for contact traced students.
“These quarantined students are not getting an equal education when we force them into a less effective remote learning platform, leaving the further behind their peers,” said the school nurse on Monday.
“We have shown that our current mitigation efforts are effective in keeping staff and students safe, so let us make our policy even better by doing what is in the best interest of our students, which would be to allow them to remain in school under the close contact inclusion policy,” she concluded.
Congressman Tom Tiffany also spoke out against the 14-day out of school quarantine policy for contact students. Noting that young people carry little risk of transmitting the virus, he said, “Schools are the safest place for kids to be in. And you’re hearing that from the head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Dr. Robert Redfield.
“It is time to amend the protocol because the damage to our children’s education is real,’ said Tiffany, who has children at Lakeland. “Drug and alcohol abuse are up across the country including here locally if you talk to local law enforcement. Most importantly, virtual education is not working. The cure is clearly worse than the disease.”
However, Dr. Tom Gabert, who was there also to seek the vacant board seat, cautioned the board to carefully consider the ramifications of going against the CDC and other health agencies’ guidelines that call for the 14-day home quarantine.
“A sample of 300 is not enough to draw meaningful statistical conclusions as to what the actual spread rate is, especially given the testing that we presently have,” he said, stressing the board needs to consider the impact on the community as a whole, and not just the student body, if the new policy results in an increase in covid cases.
A mother said her daughter was “emotionally traumatized by the experience” of being sent home for two weeks after being contact traced. “She was perfectly healthy the whole time,” said the mother, who identified herself as a special education teacher. Her son was getting all A’s until being sent home also, she said.
Feds are amending their guidelines
The CDC defines a close contact person as someone who was within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from two days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic clients, two days prior to positive specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.
CDC has recently announced it will soon recommend that the quarantine time be reduced to seven days with a negative test and 10 days with no test.
The district administrator said he was not aware of any schools in Wisconsin that currently allow in-school access for close contact students. The policy applies both to the high school and to the charter school on the campus.
Voting against the new policy were Barry Seidel, board chair Shari Nimsgern and Gary Smith. Their main concerns were about the risk of lawsuits against board members or the district if someone falls ill with the virus and blame could be affixed to the new policy.
A closer look at the covid cases
Newly labeled, the goal of Lakeland’s in-school quarantine protocol is “to ensure that students have access to their right to education during COVID-19, since their risk is minimal and the importance of education outweighs the risk of COVID.”
The school nurse said as of this week 14 LUHS staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, nine are “highly connected to an outside exposure. Four others are unknown exposures. One staff member had a likely LUHS exposure through his coaching position,” she wrote in the updated protocol document.
Of the 49 students with COVID, “only six are highly connected to LUHS exposure,” she continued. All six likely got the virus either through a sports activity contact or sitting next to a friend at lunch, and not by sitting next to another student in the classroom.
The remaining 27 cases are “highly connected to an outside LUHS exposure.”
To date, 322 students have been quarantined home due to close contact with an in-school student who tested positive for COVID-19. Not a single individual who sat close to an infected student in class has reported illness or tested positive, she said.
The “Close Contact Inclusion Program” sets certain conditions before a close contact student would be considered for in-school status. Those conditions will be spelled out in a document on the school’s website.
It also requires students opting for the in-school quarantine to follow certain procedures during the 14-day period. Among them is answering a daily questionnaire with their guardian about their health. The school nurse will take the student’s temperature.
The close contact student cannot ride the bus to and from school. He or she will use a separate school bathroom, which will be sanitized after each visit. The student will leave the classroom before the bell rings to ensure distancing from others.
Also, no eating with fellow students within six feet; no group activities within six feet; frequent hand washing and no participation in sports or other activities.