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NJDOH Updates COVID-19 Quarantine Recommendations for Schools

The New Jersey Department of Health has updated quarantine recommendations for school settings, shortening the quarantine time for students who’ve been exposed to someone with a positive COVID-19 result from 14 days to seven days – as long as the person exposed negative tests five to seven days of quarantine.

In a Dec. 16 news release, the NJDOH also stated that a student who does not get tested could return to school after 10 days at home as long as they don’t exhibit symptoms.

The updated recommendations discontinue the use of regional transmission risk levels to determine quarantine timeframes. The new recommendations, which do not apply to health care settings, align with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The guidance continues to recommend the optimal quarantine of 14 days for those who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive.

Quarantine helps prevent the spread of disease that can occur before a person knows they have the virus. However, in its news release, the NJDOH notes that the optimal 14-day exclusion timeframe may pose significant challenges for individuals – and decreasing the duration can reduce the burden on individuals and increase compliance.

The CDC has determined that these shortened timeframes are acceptable options. The revised NJDOH guidance for schools permits a shortened timeframe for student and staff exclusion after exposure. Therefore, during all levels of community transmission and outbreaks, asymptomatic individuals who are identified as a close contact to someone with COVID-19 may use a reduced exclusion period of 10 days (or seven days with negative test results collected at five to seven days) but must continue to monitor for symptoms for 14 days after exposure.

“While a 14-day quarantine period is optimal, the CDC and NJ Department of Health recognizes the value of shortening quarantine in certain circumstances,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “Vaccination continues to provide the best protection against COVID-19 preventing transmission in school, and eliminating the need to quarantine following an exposure. I recommend that all parents talk to their child’s health care provider about the COVID-19 vaccine and urge school personnel to seek vaccination and boosters as soon as possible.”

In the school setting, during times of moderate and high community transmission levels, individuals with COVID-19 symptoms and no known exposure to a COVID-19 case in the last 14 days, regardless of vaccination status, may follow the NJDOH school exclusion list to determine when they may return to school only if they have an alternative diagnosis such as strep throat, influenza, or allergies supported by an evaluation by a medical provider.

Testing is still recommended for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms.

Dec. 20 Media Briefing

Gov. Phil Murphy and Persichilli spoke about the new quarantine recommendations, the latest surge in COVID-19 cases and other COVID-19 matters at a Dec. 20 media briefing.

At the briefing, Murphy encouraged everyone to get vaccinated or to get a booster shot, noting that just over 40% of people eligible for a booster shot in New Jersey have received it.

He noted that New Jersey is “significantly ramping up our rapid testing capacity throughout the state, and folks should go out to get a free rapid test if they are visiting others. To do that, we currently have over 100 free and public testing sites throughout the state.” He urged people to visit this website to see where testing is available.

Murphy also noted there has been a spike in the number of outbreaks traced to “direct, in-school transmission” since the last reporting period. “These cases do remain somewhat rare, thanks in large part to the layered approach to student and staff safety that we have implemented along with our education communities,” he said.

Commenting on the latest school quarantine recommendations from the NJDOH, Persichilli said, “Persons who have close contact with someone with COVID regardless of vaccination status should be tested five to seven days after the last exposure. Options for shortening quarantine only apply if no symptoms develop during the quarantine period. If symptoms develop, the individual should immediately self-isolate, contact a health care provider and/or local health department, and be tested for COVID-19. Additionally, individuals should continue to self-monitor for symptoms for the full 14 days.”

Persichilli was also asked about a “test and stay” program that would allow schools to shorten quarantine timeframes further by administering a daily rapid test to students that have been exposed. Massachusetts has such a program in place already.

“We’re working with the school nurses,” Persichilli said. “We have developed a proposal for a pilot. We’re looking at that for the restart and for the holiday break.”

The CDC has endorsed the idea on its website, stating, “Test to Stay is a practice comprised of contact tracing and serial testing (testing that is sequentially repeated) to allow school-associated close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to continue in-person learning during their quarantine period. While implementation of TTS may vary, contact tracing and testing as well as masking of contacts during their in-school quarantine period are integral to minimize risk of transmission. Schools may consider the use of TTS to minimize the impact of quarantine and limit school absences after a SARS-CoV-2 exposure in the K-12 school setting.”

To view the full guidance from the NJDOH, visit:
https://www.state.nj.us/health/cd/topics/covid2019_schools.shtml

To view the updated minimum quarantine timeframes, visit:
https://www.nj.gov/health/cd/topics/covid2019_professionals.shtml

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