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Citing CDC, district shortens isolation requirement for asymptomatic students and staff

Sabine Poux/KDLL

School administrators hope new isolation requirements for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will alleviate strain from the rising omicron variant on staffing, since students and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 but have not experienced any symptoms can now return masked to the classroom after five days instead of 10.

"If a person is asymptomatic, they can isolate for five days and then return wearing a mask for the next five days as long as they remain symptom free," said Superintendent Clayton Holland at a school board meeting Monday.

The new policy is in step with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC said last monthits reasoning for the shorter isolation period was that most COVID-19 transmission happens soon after the onset of symptoms.

Since then, several Alaska school districts have also pivoted. The Anchorage School District changed its policy last week, citing the guidelines and a need to keep more students in school.

But the KPBSD’s new policy does not follow CDC guidance to the letter. Students and staff who test positive but do have symptoms must wait 10 days before returning to school or work. The CDC, on the other hand, said people can stop isolating after five days as long as their symptoms are “resolving.”

District Spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff said the district may revise its policy in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases are rising again, both in the general population and in the school district. In the KPBSD, 71 students and 26 staff reported testing positive for the virus in the last seven days, according to the district’s COVID-19 hub.

Holland said rising case counts could spur staff shortages as school staff isolate and quarantine.

“If that’s the case, we could be in a situation where a classroom or a school could go remote for a certain amount of time," he said. "We’re certainly hoping that does not happen. But we have to get that out there that there is the possibility it could occur.”

Last week, the high school in the Kodiak Island Borough School District switched to remote learning for three days due in part to problems with staffing.

The district’s new guidelines do not change quarantine requirements for those who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19. Since December, students and staff who have been exposed to someone with the virus can come back to work or school if they don’t have any symptoms of illness and wear a mask. There is also a testing requirement for close contacts.

Erkeneff said the district is continuing to contact trace students and staff going forward.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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