K-12 COVID safety precautions are being canceled as quickly as masks

Colorado is preparing to treat COVID like a routine disease by the end of February.
By: | February 18, 2022

After ditching masks in droves in recent weeks, many states and districts are going a step further by dropping COVID tests, contract tracing and other precautions.

While many in education are eager for a return to pre-pandemic normalcy as omicron cases plunge, others—particularly teachers’ unions and some public health officials—worry defenses are being lowered too soon.

Colorado is preparing to treat COVID like a routine disease by end of February and allow schools to “move away from individual case-investigation response.” Under the new policies, officials and educators are expected to continue to encourage vaccinations, mask use and COVID testing.

But individual case investigation and contact tracing will come to an end along with students and staff who are exposed to COVID at school. “Given the much greater risk of household exposures compared to non-household exposures, schools should continue to follow quarantine guidance for students and staff who report household exposures,” state authorities said.

Indiana, where the COVID positivity rate has fallen from 33% to 13 % over the last several weeks, just loosened many of its K-12 COVID protocols. Students no longer have to quarantine if they are exposed to COVID, regardless of their vaccination status or whether their school requires masks. Indiana schools can also stop contact tracing and reporting positive cases to the state health department IDOH. “These changes reflect the rapid decline in COVID-19 cases as we emerge from the omicron surge and the fact that all school-age children have been eligible to be vaccinated since November,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said. “While they do not remove the need for continued vigilance, they will ease the reporting burden on schools and help ensure that children can stay in school.”

The decline in cases also appears to have dampened districts’ enthusiasm for COVID testing, even when it’s free. In Pennsylvania, only a few districts have signed up for the free, on-site testing program the state rolled out in the fall.

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Only 750 of the state’s 5,000-plus charter, private, and public schools had joined as of Feb 16, and only about half those are actually testing, according to reporting by Spotlight PA and PennLive.com. North Carolina will no longer require contact tracing in schools. Authorities said the rapid spread of omicron and its short incubation period make the procedure less effective, Spectrum News reported.

A handful of schools continue to contend with COVID’s interruptions. The Molalla River School District in Oregon closed on Friday due to a student protest. “Over the last several days, it has been challenging to accommodate normal school operations and our mission of teaching and learning in our schools was disrupted,” the district said on its website. “At the secondary level, students were exercising the right to protest. Student safety, one of our primary responsibilities, was difficult to manage during this time.”

Mask becoming optional everywhere

Just this week, New Mexico and Washington became the latest to drop mask mandates for schools. New Mexico’s mandate ended Thursday while Washington will allow schools to set their own mask requirements after March 21.

Washington districts will still have to report COVID-19 cases and outbreaks. “Nearly all of our school employees are vaccinated, the number of vaccinated students increases each day, and we have one of the most robust COVID-19 school testing programs in the country,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said. “Moving away from a statewide mask mandate to masks being encouraged is a safe next step as we move from pandemic to endemic.”