Schools Get Green Light to Relax Quarantine Rules
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana’s health department Monday loosened its coronavirus quarantine guidance for schools and workplaces to match the latest recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but is keeping more rigid guidance in place for prisons and nursing homes.
The Department of Health’s guidelines suggest people who have come in close contact with someone infected with the coronavirus can resume normal activity — including attendance for in-person classroom instruction — after 10 days if no symptoms have emerged, or after seven days if they test negative for the virus.
That dovetails with the CDC’s adjustments to its recommendations last week, which were decreased from a 14-day quarantine period.
“Louisiana will be adopting the updated CDC guidance that allows for shortening quarantine,” health department spokesperson Aly Neel said. “The 14-day quarantine is still the gold standard and is still recommended, but it is acceptable to shorten the quarantine period.”
The state Department of Education is giving school systems the green light to start following the relaxed quarantine rules immediately at Louisiana’s 1,700 schools. The education department follows the health department’s guidance, and had sought looser rules.
“Thanks to the work of our educators, we have been able to avoid widespread closures. Our schools have not been found to be ‘super spreaders’ of this virus, and we’re thankful for this,” Louisiana Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said in a statement. “We believe continued adherence to our mitigation efforts such as group sizes, face coverings, physical distancing and hand washing are critically important.”
Superintendents have complained that too many students without symptoms of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus were being sent home for 14 days because they sit close to someone in class who tests positive or play on a sports team with someone found to be infected.
State Senate Republicans leader Sharon Hewitt, of Slidell, applauded the adjustment announced Monday and thanked Health Secretary Courtney Phillips “for listening to Louisiana parents and school administrators and taking quick action to address their concerns.”
“Right now, every possible day in a traditional classroom is essential for our students,” Hewitt said in a statement. “These new guidelines will maximize in-person instruction time while keeping students and teachers safe.”
But the Louisiana Department of Health is sticking to the 14-day quarantine recommendation for prisons, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities where people live together in tight quarters. Also, the department is cautioning that people should “realize there is a risk” in a shorter quarantine period.
“There is a residual risk that you could leave your quarantine early and still be infectious. For that reason, we are still recommending that congregate settings use the 14-day quarantine,” Neel said.
Anyone who ends a quarantine before the 14-day period should continue monitoring for symptoms for the full two weeks, the health department advises.
The quarantine announcement came as Louisiana remains in its third surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations since the state’s first outbreak began in March.
The health department Monday confirmed 6,331 deaths from COVID-19, an increase of 22 from a day earlier. The number of people hospitalized with the disease has more than doubled since last month, with 1,423 COVID-19 patients reported in hospital beds Monday. Intensive care unit beds are dwindling, particularly in the Acadiana region and southwest Louisiana.
Amid the spike, New Orleans may be in store for stricter coronavirus restrictions. Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in Monday social media posts that cases are on the rise in the city and that if the numbers do not look better in one week, more restrictions will be added.
Numbers that have city health officials concerned include a sharp increase in the percentage of tests with positive results for the virus. The seven-day average, as reported by the city, has gone from around 1% in early November to 3.6% Sunday.
Cantrell did not provide details on what the tighter rules might entail. Current restrictions already limit indoor social gatherings to 75 people, outdoor gatherings to 150 people, with strict limits on restaurant and bar occupancy and an end to alcohol sales at 11 p.m. in a city usually known for its embrace of all-night drinking.
By AP reporter Melinda Deslatte