Changes to Covid SOP Will Keep More Kids in School

Changes to the Maine CDC’s Standard Operating Procedure for schools means Sanford students and staff who are close contacts of a positive Covid-19 case will no longer have to miss school to quarantine, as long as they have no Covid symptoms and have not tested positive for the virus. Students who test positive will also be able to return to school more quickly than previously.

At the School Committee meeting on Monday, January 3, 2022, Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson detailed updates to the SOP regarding isolation of positive Covid cases and quarantining of close contacts of a positive case. The current definition of a close contact is: being within 6 feet of an infected person (with or without a face mask) for at least 15 minutes (cumulatively in a day), or having direct physical contact with a person with COVID-19 during the infectious period. Contact that occurs outdoors or on a school bus is not considered close contact, even if physical contact occurs. The updated SOP includes the following changes:

  • Anyone (staff or student) who tests positive for Covid-19 may return to school after five days of isolation after symptoms have been resolved, and must wear a mask around others for an additional five days.
  • Anyone who is a close contact, but has not tested positive and is asymptomatic must wear a mask for ten days but does not need to quarantine if:
    • The close contact (staff or student) is boostered; or
    • The close contact is a fully vaccinated 16-17 year old student who, according to the U.S. CDC, may receive a booster but has not yet done so; or
    • The close contact (staff or student) is not eligible for a booster but is fully vaccinated; or
    • The close contact (staff or student) completed their second mRNA dose within 6 months (or completed their J&J vaccine within two months)
  • Because Sanford schools enforce a mandatory mask policy, close contacts who do not fall into one of the above four categories must quarantine from the community for five days, but may attend school during that time, and then wear a mask around others for ten days. Mr. Nelson reiterated that this relaxation of the rules only applies to those with no symptoms; anyone who is symptomatic must stay out of school.

The definition of a school outbreak has also been updated. The previous definition was three cases over 14 days. The new definition will be measured using student and staff absenteeism rates. An outbreak investigation will be opened when greater than 15% of the school population is absent due to illness.

Mr. Nelson, who had advocated with the state for these changes, said he hopes they will reduce the amount of contact tracing the School Department has to do, which has become “very much a burden.” A Committee of school superintendents from throughout the state is being formed to meet with the DHHS Commissioner and CDC representatives. “We now have people directly working in schools as part of the process,” he said. He reminded the public that this is an ever-changing situation.

With regard to isolation of school athletes who test positive for Covid, he said the current protocol of ten-day isolation and a gradual return to play will remain in place for the time being. Athletic Director Gordie Salls is scheduled to meet this week with trainers from Maine Health to discuss the issue. Mr. Nelson said the concern with returning to play sports after a Covid infection is related to the risk of cardiac issues, and the protocol was in place to protect athletes from these complications.

Mr. Nelson said from December 21 to January 3 there were 60 new cases of Covid among students and staff in Sanford schools.

The full meeting video may be viewed here.

The full text of the current SOP is here.