Editorial: Shorter COVID isolation period for schools will demand vigilance

  • New CDC guidance says most students and teachers who test positive for COVID-19 can return safely to school after five days of isolation, but every individual's situation is different, so caution is still important.

    New CDC guidance says most students and teachers who test positive for COVID-19 can return safely to school after five days of isolation, but every individual's situation is different, so caution is still important. Associated Press File Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted1/14/2022 3:28 PM

When state officials adopted updated federal guidelines that shrink the minimum COVID isolation period for students and school staff, every educator we know probably gave a prayer of thanks.

By allowing teachers and staffers to return to school after five days instead of 10, the rampant illness that threatens some schools with closure might be held at bay until the current COVID surge passes.

 

The new rules are potentially also good for students, who do much better academically when they are physically present in school and should be able to be there if they are well enough to attend.

We're happy for the students, of course, but whether a school remains viable is dependent almost entirely on whether there is a well-trained, educated and healthy staff to teach them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided there was enough data to update their policy in late December. Officials said that after five days, around 85% of a person's transmissibility time is past. The remainder could be handled if the person wears a good-fitting mask for the next five days.

The CDC finally sent out guidelines for schools on Jan. 6. This week, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois Association of School Boards recommended they be approved here.

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Of course, COVID-19 doesn't ride exactly the same on everybody. Some people take longer to recover.

The updated rules call for students and staff members to stay home "a minimum of five days and a maximum of 10 days" after COVID-19 symptoms appear or the date a positive test was collected. They must "continue to wear a mask around others for five more days after returning to school."

Some skeptics have noted that the timing of the updated rules came just as the omicron surge was taking hold. They question whether the CDC was playing less to the medical research of the thing and more to the hard economics of it. We worry more that people will be pressured into returning before they are well enough; and wonder whether people can be counted on to mask up once they get back to school.

But Illinois has made the call, and in general we remain supportive. We're all for getting people back to work and relieving the incredible strain schools are under. All we ask is, if schools start turning into COVID hot spots, the state be prepared to reverse course, or at least amend their directive.

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