Schools adopt new
COVID-19 policies amid surge

Margie Reece, principal of St. Athanasius School, left, received a booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine during a school vaccine clinic on Nov. 16, 2021, as Sophie Ernst, a third-grader, looked on. The archdiocese issued new COVID-19 protocols this week. (Record File Photo by Kayla Boyd)

Kentucky reported 52,603 new COVID-19 cases last week, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Jan. 10. That’s the highest number of cases reported in a week, surpassing the record set in the week ending Sept. 5, 2021, by nearly 22,000 cases, he said.

Archdiocese of Louisville schools have seen the surge, too, said the archdiocese’s Superintendent of Schools Mary Beth Bowling.

“Some of our schools are seeing a few cases a week and some large schools are seeing 40 or 50 a week,” she said.

The archdiocese doesn’t keep a central list of school attendance and other data, but she has asked schools to report their absences, case numbers and quarantine numbers recently, she said. “Our numbers are much higher than a week ago.”

The archdiocese does not have plans to close schools or transition to remote learning. For some schools, those with just a handful of cases, “to close would not be a productive use of their resources,” Bowling said. But others that need to pivot can be flexible when necessary, she said.

“Every school leader has been committed to making in-person instruction a viable option for our families,” she said.

Amid the surge, schools in Kentucky, including the Archdiocese of Louisville’s schools, are adopting new health protocols from the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

The protocols call for different approaches depending on whether a school requires masks. All Catholic schools in the archdiocese currently require masks, regardless of vaccination status — from elementary through high school.

With universal masking in place, the new protocols released Jan. 12 by the archdiocese state:

  • Contact tracing is no longer required for at-school exposures, but general notifications of a COVID-19 positive case will be sent to parents of students in the same classroom(s) as the positive student.
  • Quarantining is no longer required for at-school exposures.
  • If an individual is exposed at home and not up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccination, the individual will quarantine for at least 5 days, unless the school is participating in a test-to-stay program.

Under new isolation protocols, the archdiocese’s policy says that anyone with a positive COVID-19 test should self-isolate for at least 5 days even if they’re vaccinated. Their isolation can end after the fifth day if their symptoms have resolved and “the individual can wear a well-fitting mask for five additional days.”

“If a student is unable to wear a mask consistently and properly or if symptoms continue, the individual should self-isolate for 10 full days.” the policy says.

Under the quarantine protocols, the policy indicates:

  • No contact tracing is needed for at-school exposures (as long as masking is in place).
  • Individuals who are up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccinations do not need to quarantine if they are asymptomatic, but they are recommended to get a COVID-19 test 5-7 days after their exposure as well as recommended to wear a mask indoors for 10 days.
  • Individuals who are exposed to COVID-19 outside of school (e.g., household exposure) should quarantine if they are not up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccination or if they are unvaccinated.
  • Quarantine for these individuals should be one of the following:
    — 10 full days if they have no symptoms.
    — 5 days if they have no symptoms and test negative on or after day 5 of quarantine and can wear a well-fitting mask for 5 additional days
    — If school is participating in a test-to-stay program, modified quarantine can be followed

Bowling said the new protocols will help schools manage the latest COVID-19 surge, which has led to a strain on school leaders doing contact tracing and the test-to-stay program.

“The guidance will relieve the impact of having to contact trace and enter all the data. Our test-to-stay program became unwieldy,” she said. “We were getting to the point where we couldn’t sustain the contact tracing and the test-to-stay program.”

Bowling noted that school leaders are putting all of their efforts into ensuring schools can stay open.

“They are working tirelessly to make sure this happens, so we can make sure our doors open each and every day. We hope this new guidance helps us keep doing that. They are committed to doing everything they can to keep kids in school.

“I don’t think the general public understands what school leaders are doing to make this possible right now,” she added. “We had an assistant principal who spent 25 hours last week just entering contact-tracing data. It consumes their lives 24/7 through the weekends.”

Bowling said Wild Health has been providing additional staff to help schools with testing and providing vaccine clinics in schools.

“They’ve been wonderful helping us; they’ve been a great partner helping us deal with a surge in cases in the last week and a half,” she said.

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