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State health department adopts CDC guidance to minimize school quarantines

To help support and prioritize full-time in-person learning, new guidelines do not require most classrooms to quarantine after a positive COVID-19 exposure.

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment wants to help support full-time, in-person learning to minimize classroom quarantines in the 2021-2022 school year. The new guidance applies to K-12 schools (public and private), and child care settings. 

While these guidelines apply to most schools in Colorado, stricter COVID-19 mitigation and quarantine procedures can be implemented by local public health departments. The new metrics that would not require quarantine for routine classroom exposures include:

At the county level:

Counties with a 70% or higher vaccination rate of people 12 and older with at least one COVID-19 vaccine.

OR 

Low community transmission, meaning counties with <35 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period. 

At the school level:

More than 70% of staff and students 12 and older with at least one COVID-19 vaccine. 

OR 

High rates of weekly school screening testing, meaning more than 70% of unvaccinated staff and students participating in weekly testing.  

Personal Responsibility Level:

Those fully vaccinated, previously positive in the past 90 days, participating in weekly screening, or if both parties (infected and exposed) were wearing a mask at the time of exposure. 

During a press conference on Thursday, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said quarantine would still be recommended in higher risk situations. 

High Risk Situations include: 

  • The community has a vaccination rate under 70% among individuals age 12 and older. 
  • The school has a vaccination rate under70% among staff and students age 12 and older.  
  • The community’s transmission rate is above 35 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period.

"Certainly we recognize that local public health has the authority to evaluate the conditions in their county and apply that guidance as they see appropriate in their individual county," said Herlihy. "For some counties that may mean implementing stricter guidance than what we have in our state guidance at this point." 

Tri-County Health said they would follow the state guidance, while also keeping an eye on their community spread. "It’s not no risk exposure, but it is a lower risk exposure in communities where the vaccination rates are 70-plus (percentage) and that would apply to all of our school districts in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties right now," said Jennifer Chase, the disease control branch director of COVID-19 response for the Tri-County Health Department.

RELATED: Douglas County Commissioners opt-out of Tri-County mask policy, but DougCo schools can still require masks

Chase said if a school has an outbreak of five or more related COVID-19 cases, a classroom quarantine would be required. "We recently passed a public health order for universal masking for students under 12. That just came out yesterday and will be effective on August 23rd, so we’re hopeful that that will provide an increased level of protection for children because they cannot be vaccinated," Chase said. 

Professor of immunology at CU Anschutz Medical Campus Dr. Ross Kedl said children remain at low risk for severe cases of COVID-19 and he is not concerned about new emerging variants in the younger school aged children. "It’s different in influenza or something like that where flu really does spread much more rapidly and has much more severe consequences in kids that are much younger," he said. 

He still recommends kids who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 to practice those mitigation measures like social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing their hands. Kedl said it's up to those who are eligible for the vaccine to help protect the younger children who are not.

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