SALT LAKE CITY — Students who have been exposed to COVID-19 may still be able to go to school under a "modified quarantine" in new guidance by Utah's Department of Health.
Utah's Department of Health has released new guidelines for schools as they prepare to re-open during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidelines give direction to local school districts about common standards for safety and hygiene.
At a news conference on Thursday, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said the state has started to see a decline in COVID-19 cases.
"We have the opportunity to re-start school with case counts decreasing and being more in control. To do this we need everybody to continue wearing face masks in public, practicing physical distancing, staying home when you’re ill and using good hand hygiene. If we all do these things, we will continue to see a decrease in cases," she said.
The plan released by the state health department offers guidance like:
- Schools will not close if someone tests positive for COVID-19, but teaching may adapt to a more remote system if there are indications of spread.
- Students, teachers or staff who show symptoms consistent with novel coronavirus will stay home and isolate for 14 days.
- An optional quarantine is available for students who come in contact with someone who has it, but the exception is if a student is in a household and living with someone who contracts COVID-19, they must quarantine at home.
"This will allow children to stay in the educational system, get the classroom setting they need while also keeping themselves and their environment safe. If any close contact starts to develop symptoms consistent with COVID, they will be asked to stay home. This is a process that we have been using with essential employees throughout this outbreak and it has worked," Dr. Dunn told reporters.
Governor Gary Herbert said he has been listening to input as the plan was formulated. Recently, the Utah Education Association -- the state's largest teacher's union -- said it opposed in-person class instruction with COVID-19 cases still rising. The governor said resuming classroom education was important.
"We want to do it in an environment where it is safe for them to attend, parents feel good about sending their children off to school and the teachers also feel good about going to school," he said. "All the way from the bus driver to the janitor, feel like this is an environment where we have at least minimized the risk. We can't eliminate all risk, but we can at least control risk."
Sydnee Dickson, the state's superintendent of public instruction, said she supported the guidance. She insisted that local health departments and local school boards were soliciting input as districts prepared their re-opening plans and urged parents to read the full recommendations. Superintendent Dickson and Dr. Dunn said the guidelines were flexible to adapt to changes as the pandemic continues.
Superintendent Dickson acknowledged the concerns of many who were worried about sending children and teachers back to school in a few weeks, but said online-only education may not be possible for all students. She said there were issues of equity and, in some cases, student home safety to consider.
"Not all of our families have access to broadband or to the tools they need," she told reporters.
Superintendent Dickson called on the community to step up and ensure schools stay open by following the proper health protocols.
"If we want our children back in schools what are we willing to do to get them there?" she said.
Watch Thursday's news conference below: