Indiana students can return to class sooner after COVID positives

Three students walk in a hallway lined with lockers at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, Ind. on April 9, 2021.
Scenes from Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, Ind. on Friday, April 9, 2021. Indiana Department of Health says students who test positive for COVID can return to class after quarantining for five days, but only if they wear a mask. (Aaricka Washington / Chalkbeat)

Indiana students can return to school sooner after quarantining for COVID-19 under new rules released by the state Department of Health — but it all depends on masking. 

The guidance says students who test positive for COVID can return to the classroom on Day 6 after staying home for five days, as long as they’re asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving. However, they must wear a mask for Days 6 to 10, regardless of their school’s mask policy. 

Students who have tested positive and can’t or choose not to wear a mask must still isolate at home for the full 10 days. 

Meanwhile, students who have been exposed to COVID in school but remain asymptomatic can still attend school on campus, provided they wear a mask. Even in schools without a mask requirement, students must mask for 10 days, and a test on Day 5 is encouraged, if possible. 

If a student is exposed to COVID at home or otherwise outside of school, their steps depend on their vaccination status. 

Fully vaccinated students — defined as those who have received both doses plus a booster, if eligible  — can remain in school if they’re asymptomatic and wear a mask for at least 10 days if their school doesn’t require masks full time. 

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated students who are asymptomatic should stay home for five days, test on Day 5 if possible, and return to the classroom with a mask for Days 6 through 10. 

Indiana will require all students who have been exposed to get a test if symptoms develop and to stay home. If the test is positive, they should follow isolation guidance, and if negative, they can return to school when symptoms have resolved. 

Students who have been exposed but remain asymptomatic can resume extracurricular activities with a mask. Students who must complete a home quarantine must also stop extracurriculars for their five days in isolation. 

The state posted the new guidance on Dec. 30 shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released similar recommendations on shortened quarantines. 

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The state Department of Health expects to update its recommendations pending forthcoming guidance on schools from the CDC, according to a presentation posted online. It encourages masking for schools. 

“The safest and most consistent guidance for the school environment is to have everyone consistently and correctly masked, no matter which guidance your school or district chooses to follow,” the presentation says. 

Indiana is in the midst of another surge in COVID cases, along with much of the country. 

The legislature is also set to consider a bill that would in part allow parents to opt their children out of masking in schools if parents provide written notice.

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