Students across Pima County returned to campus Monday after winter break to updated quarantine and isolation protocols for those identified as positive for COVID-19 or as a close contact.
Ahead of the break, the CDC reduced the number of days someone needs to quarantine or isolate if they test positive or have been identified through contact tracing.
Sahuarita Unified School and Continental Elementary School Districts are following the updated guidance when it comes to their policies.
Those who are identified as positive for COVID-19 will need to isolate at home five days rather than 10 days, as long as they are asymptomatic or their symptoms have dissipated. They will then need to wear a mask for the next five days on campus.
At SUSD, those identified as a close contact will also be required to isolate for five days if they “completed the primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine over six months ago and are not boosted, or completed the primary series of J&J over two months ago and are not boosted, or are unvaccinated.”
They can test on day five and will need to wear a mask the next five days at school.
Those who have been vaccinated within the last six months with Pfizer or Moderna, within the last two months with J&J or who have been boosted will not need to quarantine if identified as a close contact, but will need to wear a mask for 10 days.
SUSD Superintendent Manny Valenzuela called the change a meaningful step forward.
“One of the challenges when we have to quarantine students who have been exposed is that it does take them away for a period of time from being in class,” he said. “It is a welcomed and meaningful step and allows us to provide a path for students who have had an exposure to come back earlier.”
Students missing class due to quarantines and isolations have been a regular concern for parents, and Valenzuela said, so far, parents are happy with the changes.
“Overall, the feedback has been favorable and the theme I've heard is I think there is an appreciation that we are back, schools are open and we are operating as close to normal as we can,” he said.
CESD will continue to identify close contacts and determine that those students may “test to stay” in school. Students who chose to test to stay will need to test every day and, if negative, they may stay in school as long as they are willing to wear their masks.
While the districts are changing their quarantine policies, they will not adopt mask requirements.
Before the winter break, the Pima County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 21 adopted a resolution requiring masks indoors.
Though the resolution includes schools, Valenzuela said they are strongly recommending and encouraging masks be worn on campus, but like the county itself, they will not be enforcing or punishing students or staff who don’t wear a mask.
“When the board passed the resolution, we read and evaluated it and listened to statements from the county,” he said. “What I think came through in the resolution is that the primary focus of their efforts and objectives was to communicate and educate and collaborate. The focus was not on enforcement, so we adopted those same intentions and objectives.”
CESD Superintendent Roxana Rico-Beaucage said as far as masks, they are “status quo but really trying to encourage masks.”
Valenzuela anticipates that families will adhere to the new protocol which allows students to return to school after testing negative for COVID-19 on day five if they wear a mask the next five days because it allows students to be on-site at school longer.
However, should the situation arise that someone tests negative on day five of their quarantine and they do not want to wear a mask to come back to campus early, they will handle it on an individual basis.
“With the resolution from the county, enforcement is not the primary approach for compliance and we are mirroring their words and intentions,” he said. “In regards to quarantine and isolation, we are setting that expectation (of masks) for getting to come back earlier.”
“We will act in good faith to enforce it as best as we are able and we anticipate those will be handled on an individual basis. I anticipate most people will understand and will be glad to wear a mask for a few days to get back half as quickly.”
Masks could still become a requirement should the local conditions call for them or should the county order schools to enforce them.