The Covid pandemic is nearly into its third year and schools are still quarantining children. An Oregon high school ordered all 2,680 of its students to stay home for a week and a half in September – two days of complete shutdown, followed by a week of online classes. Parents received a “flash alert message” at 5:35 a. m. informing them that their children wouldn’t be allowed in school that day.
Dr. Leslie Bienen and Eric Happel tell us this tale in The Wall Street Journal. They say that Oregon Public Broadcasting reports “875 high school students and staff members . . . had to quarantine” before the shutdown. What precipitated this emergency intervention into the education of all these students? Four positive tests of Covid-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is responsible for these draconian measures. Despite the disease’s low risk to young people and the widespread vaccination of adults, the CDC continues to recommend seven-to-fourteen-day quarantines for schoolchildren who are suspected of having been exposed to the virus.
Fortunately, thirty states have set aside the CDC guidelines, dismissing them as unreasonable and lacking scientific basis. In fact, the CDC itself has published studies suggesting that such measures are unnecessary. Yet the CDC has dragged its feet in considering a less-restrictive alternative known as “test to stay.” Most likely, the reason is the White House doesn’t approve.
During the 2020-21 school year, a study from Salt Lake County, Utah, published in the CDC’s own Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found only four positive cases among 735 students tested while in quarantine, a transmission rate of just 0.7%. A study from St. Louis County, Mo., also published in MMWR, found no positive cases among quarantined students at a time when the total countywide two-week case count was 711 per 100,000 people. (The CDC classifies a one-week rate of 100 per 100,000 as “high.”) Los Angeles Unified School district reported a transmission positivity rate of only 0.2% after testing 30,000 students.
In response to these numbers, Los Angeles Unified School district changed its policy to “test-to-stay”: Asymptomatic students suspected of exposure may remain in school, subject to testing every few days for a week, along with other restrictions. Parents are still directed to keep them at home outside school hours. (No sense in going outside and enjoying themselves where it is safest for them to be!)
The authors say “test-to-stay” reduces dramatically the educational costs of quarantine. Utah reported it saved 109,742 school days across 13 high schools from November 2020 thru March 2021. Yet many states are sticking with the CDC guidelines. It would not surprise you to know that most voted for President Biden. The CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has sidestepped questions regarding this policy and responded only that “masks are working.”
Not surprisingly, Oregon doesn’t allow “test-to-stay” and has rigidly followed the CDC guidelines, even adding restrictions not in the guidelines like requiring outdoor masking at recess and 10 to 14 days of quarantine for all exposed students who haven’t been vaccinated – even if the potential exposure occurred outside, where transmission is so rare that it is almost undocumented. Oregon has mandated vaccination for teachers, other school staff and volunteers, so any danger to adults in school is minimal.
Naturally, all these restrictions have a greater impact on low-income students, whose parents cannot afford alternative educational resources, including hiring tutors to make up for educational deficits. Allowing “test-to-stay” would ameliorate, but not eliminate, some of this damage. Other countries, like Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, have eliminated quarantines of schoolchildren with no resulting rise in Covid-19. Dr. Bienen says, “The CDC’s current quarantine policies keep children out of school and provide no meaningful reduction in Covid-19 transmission.”