Indiana lifts quarantine guideline for schools that require masks

Several young elementary students are social distanced in a school gymnasium.
Indiana Department of Health allows schools with universal mask requirements to skip quarantining close contacts of positive cases. (Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action)

New guidance issued Wednesday by the Indiana Department of Health allows schools with universal mask requirements to skip quarantining close contacts of positive cases. 

Close contacts — defined as anyone who was within 3 feet of a COVID-positive person for greater than 15 minutes — will instead be asked to self-monitor for symptoms. They will be allowed to remain in school unless they develop symptoms. 

The quarantine exception applies only to schools that enforce masking for students and staff. In schools without mask requirements for all, the state will require close contacts to quarantine after an exposure, unless they are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic.

Indiana recommends testing for all close contacts and requires schools to trace contacts of a positive case by notifying the local health department as well as parents, teachers, and staff. 

The new exception to quarantine applies only to the classroom setting and does not apply to COVID-19 exposures during extracurricular activities and athletics, according to the department. 

States like Ohio and Utah put similar policies in place last school year in hopes of reducing the disruption of placing many students in quarantine. 

The announcement comes after the state reported more than 6,100 cases in schools last week and as districts adjust their own requirements related to masking and quarantining. On Monday, Indianapolis Public Schools announced a new protocol that would allow those who have recently recovered from COVID to skip quarantine after an exposure, if they remain asymptomatic.

IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said Monday that 600 students and staff in the district have been quarantined since school began.

The Indiana Department of Health does not keep a total number of students who have had to quarantine since the beginning of the school year, describing such data as fluid. 

Instead, the tally of positive cases accurately reflects the current level of transmission in schools, a department representative said. 

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