Loudoun County Public Schools is shortening the length of time staff members and students infected with COVID-19 must isolate from 10 days to five, in accordance with the latest recommendations from the CDC and Department of Health, despite previously stating it wouldn’t do so until mid-January.
Superintendent Scott Ziegler previously announced plans to continue the 10-day quarantine requirement when classes resumed after winter break. Ziegler said in an email to families that the new protocols wouldn’t be implemented until Jan. 17, allowing for transmission data to be analyzed before a decision was made.
The new guidance also requires fully vaccinated individuals who are eligible for a booster shot but have not yet received one to isolate if they are close contacts of infected individuals.
Individuals deemed close contacts who are asymptomatic may forgo the isolation period after showing proof of having received a vaccine booster, two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in the last six months, or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the last two months.
The new guidance comes as evidence shared by the CDC found that transmission of the virus is most likely to occur one to two days before the onset of symptoms, and two to three days after. Now, infected individuals may return to school five days after testing positive, regardless of their status.
The spread of the Omicron variant during the holidays led to a pandemic era-high 1,215 new cases being reported in Loudoun County on Dec. 31. The seven-day average of new cases reported, as of Jan. 4, was 767.
The division is continuing with mitigation protocols, requiring all people in school buildings to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. Still, parents and staff members took to social media to express concerns. Many speculate that the change in protocols is due to a shortage of teachers and substitutes.
One mother posted on Facebook a photo of her daughter’s positive COVID test on day eight of the child’s illness, three days after the student would have been permitted to return if school had been in session.
Staff at one high school were reportedly told that due to teacher shortages, classes might be combined in the gymnasium.
Shortly after the new protocols were announced, School Board member Andrew Hoyler said on Facebook that he had not been briefed on the change.
“When I have answers, I will share them with you all, but unfortunately at this point, I’m as confused as many of you,” he said in his post.
The school division did not respond with comment on the sudden change by press time.