11 March 2022

Updates on masking, Test to Stay, and more

Masking

Isolation

Diagnostic testing

Test to Stay

Contact Tracing, Notification, and Reporting

Physical Distancing

DOH K-12 GUIDANCE

The updated guidance from The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is out now and goes into effect this Saturday, March 12th.

Some requirements have been dropped or modified while others have become recommendations. See a breakdown of this new guidance below and how it relates to priority issues for your school community.

This summary has been approved by DOH. Please feel free to share with your staff and school community as the new guidance goes into effect.

High-level take-aways from new guidance:

  • Masks are still required in nurses’ offices/health rooms and in designated isolation rooms.
  • Students and staff with confirmed COVID-19 are required to isolate at home for at least 5 days before returning to school regardless of vaccination status. They can return to school after 5 full days of isolation IF:
    • Their symptoms have improved or they are asymptomatic
    • They are without a fever for the past 24 hours without use of fever-reducing medications
    • They wear a well-fitting mask at school for the next 5 consecutive school days (days 6-10) OR they test negative after day 5 of isolation before returning to school. If individuals test negative after day 5, masking for the next 5 days at school is recommended but not required.
  • K-12 schools must ensure access to timely diagnostic testing for students and staff with symptoms or who were potentially exposed and want to test.
  • Test to Stay is no longer required for students or staff who have been exposed, but may still be used, particularly for certain scenarios including high-risk activities (e.g., high-risk indoor sports, high aerosol-generating activities), household exposures, exposure of individuals who are at high risk for significant disease, or to prevent closure during an outbreak.
  • Contact tracing for the general school population is no longer required, but there are specific notification and reporting requirements that must be observed.
  • Physical distancing is not required but is recommended if it does not interfere with in-person learning.

Reach out to COVIDExternalAffairs@doh.wa.gov for questions about the updated guidance. Contact your L2R Program Manager to discuss evolving testing strategies.

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Masking

Where are masks now required?

Masks may also be temporarily required when:

  • Individuals are returning from a 5-day isolation period and have not received a negative test beforehand. 
  • There are clusters and/or outbreaks in classrooms or with groups of students.
  • A local health officer or individual school/district chooses to require it due to community levels or other factors.

Consult your local health jurisdiction (LHJ) to determine when universal masking should be temporarily required for groups experiencing increased transmission.

Immunocompromised, medically fragile, or otherwise high-risk individuals should consult with their healthcare provider about whether or not to continue masking.

It is important to note that students and staff may choose to continue wearing masks to protect themselves and others. Some high-risk individuals, or younger students who are not yet eligible for vaccination or are not yet fully vaccinated, may also choose to wear masks. There may be situations in which some students and staff are temporarily wearing masks while others are not, such as when returning to school after isolation. In any case, schools should work to normalize optional mask use and support those who do choose to mask.

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Isolation

Isolation at school:

  • It is required that anyone at school with COVID-like symptoms be isolated immediately in a designated isolation room, referred to diagnostic testing*, and sent home regardless of vaccination status.

  • Symptomatic individuals are required to wear a well-fitting face mask, if tolerated and age appropriate, while in the designated isolation area and on their way out of the school building.

  • Anyone providing care or evaluation to the isolated individual is required to wear appropriate PPE.

Learn more about requirements for a designated isolation space under “Isolation of COVID-19 Cases within a Facility” in the updated guidance.

Isolation at home:

  • Any student or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19 is required to isolate at home for at least 5 days, regardless of vaccination status

  • Individuals can return to school after five days if:
    • Their symptoms have improved or they are asymptomatic, AND
    • They are without a fever for the past 24 hours without use of fever-reducing medications.
  • Students and staff returning to school after the 5-day isolation period are required to wear a well-fitting mask at school for the next 5 consecutive school days (days 6-10). If these 5 days post-isolation include weekends or school-holidays, individuals are strongly recommended to mask when in public indoor settings.

  • Alternatively, students and staff are not required to wear a mask when returning from a 5-day isolation IF they test negative for COVID-19 after day five, before returning to school. This can be done with a lab-based or rapid antigen at-home test. 

Diagnostic testing

K-12 schools are required to ensure access to timely diagnostic testing for students and staff with symptoms or who were potentially exposed and want to test.

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Test to Stay

Test to stay protocols are no longer required for students or staff who have been exposed to COVID-19.

  • According to the new guidance, “Exposed students and staff may continue to take part in all in-person instruction and activities, including sports, performing arts, and other extracurricular activities, as long as they are not symptomatic.”

  • As stated above, symptomatic individuals must be isolated immediately, referred to a testing site or provided with a diagnostic test, and sent home.

Schools may consider using or continuing a Test to Stay protocol for high-risk activities such as high-contact sports and high-aerosol generating performing arts when participants have been exposed to COVID-19.

Read more about these recommendations under “Test to Stay” in the updated guidance.

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Contact Tracing, Notification, and Reporting

Contact tracing for the general school population is no longer required, but there are specific notification and reporting requirements that must be observed:

Notification requirements:

  • Schools are required to directly notify any student who has been identified as immunocompromised, medically fragile, or otherwise at high risk for severe COVID-19 of potential exposure. 
  • Schools are required to notify staff if they were potentially exposed to COVID-19.
  • Schools are required to have a process in place to inform students, families, and staff of positive cases or outbreaks in the school (i.e., school dashboard or email notification).

Reporting requirements:

  • All cases of COVID-19 in schools and provider facilities are required to be reported to LHJs/DOH
  • All outbreaks of COVID-19 are required to be reported to the LHJ
  • Employers are required to notify Labor & Industries (L&I) about outbreaks of 10 or more staff members at a facility.

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Physical Distancing

Physical distancing is not required but is recommended if it does not interfere with in-person learning.

It is recommended that schools maximize distance between students to the degree possible for the following circumstances:

  • When in the cafeteria.
  • In common areas outside of the classroom.
  • During high-risk activities when increased exhalation or aerosolization occurs (e.g., physical education or exercising indoors, singing or playing instruments, and cheering or shouting). These activities should be moved outdoors or to large, well-ventilated spaces whenever possible.

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