Schools with universal masking now have the option to discontinue contact tracing, school-related quarantines

Prior to returning to in-person instruction on Jan. 4, Christian County Public Schools issued a statement that the district would not be requiring masks.

Kentucky schools can now choose which of the following COVID-19 precautions they would like to take: require universal masking or continue conducting contact tracing and requiring individuals with a school-related close contact to quarantine.

Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, announced the new guidelines on Monday during Gov. Andy Beshear’s news conference. Stack also said the guidance is changing in light of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updating its isolation and quarantine guidance last week.

Stack said, “Most importantly, universal masking is essential with omicron. If universal masking is not required in K-12 schools, omicron will spread rapidly and result in rapid and massive student and staff absences to due illness.”

If a school requires universal masking then it:

  1. Does not have to do contact tracing within the school population if a positive person is identified in the school population, and
  2. Does not have to quarantine any of the students or staff in the school population due to finding a positive person in the school setting.
school isolation and quarantine chart
(Governor’s office chart)

In schools that do not require universal masking, the schools are urged to maintain robust contact tracing programs and to quarantine all school-related close contacts who aren’t up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccination.

Prior to returning to in-person instruction on Jan. 4, Christian County Public Schools issued a statement that the district would not be requiring masks, despite guidance from the Kentucky Department of Public Health that schools adopt universal masking and physical distancing.

CCPS Superintendent Chris Bentzel acknowledged the recent surge in cases, noting the district intends to continue offering “premier education to students in-person, five days per week with optional mask-wearing” in school facilities and at extracurricular events. Pursuant to federal transportation mandates, students will continue to be required to wear face masks on school buses, however, he noted.

“CCPS will continue to review COVID-related metrics on a daily basis to inform our COVID-safety protocols,” he said in a news release on Jan. 2. “This includes community incident rates; district incident rates; district quarantine numbers; and local hospital capacity.”

Under the state’s updated guidance, individuals who test positive will continue to be required to isolate for at least five days, regardless of a school’s mask policy.

Individuals who are not up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccination and who are exposed to COVID-19 at home or outside school should quarantine for at least five days unless participating in a test-to-stay modified quarantine program.

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Julia Hunter | Hoptown Chronicle

Julia Hunter is co-founder and engagement editor of Hoptown Chronicle. She began her journalism career as a reporter and news editor at the Kentucky New Era and now lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where she serves as the membership & communications director for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Reach her at julia@hoptownchronicle.org and find her on Twitter at @JuliaMHunter.