New quarantine rules for Alabama schools means fewer sent home

Updated Oct 09, 2020; Posted Oct 08, 2020

By Trisha Powell Crain

CORRECTED at 9:00 a.m. on Oct. 9 to show that changes affect only close contacts, not symptomatic students or school employees.

New guidance for schools from the Alabama Department of Public Health should mean fewer students and staff sent home to quarantine for possible exposure to COVID-19.

In a training session on Thursday afternoon, ADPH officials said schools no longer have to send home the close contacts–those within six feet for 15 minutes or more–of students and staff showing two of three major symptoms, new cough or new difficulty breathing, for quarantining.

Students and staff showing one of those three major symptoms will still be sent home. That part of the guidance did not change.

Those who have come into close contact with someone who has experienced a new loss of taste or smell or has tested positive for COVID-19, still must go home to quarantine for 14 days.

“The changing guidance is a good signal,” Alabama Superintendent Eric Mackey said, “that we have a better handle on this. We’re going to send home fewer students and fewer adults.”

The new guidance, which will be published on Oct. 13, comes after hundreds of students and teachers doing in-person learning have been sent home to quarantine since the start of the school year because they either showed one of three major symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 or were a close contact to someone who did.

“We’ve been very cautious in sending kids home,” Mackey said, “and maybe in some cases too cautious if you can say too cautious because we’re sending more people home than have to be.”

“Most of the students that we have sent home to quarantine do not eventually come down with the virus.”

Some schools across the state have had to shift to remote learning just this week because so many staff, including teachers, have had to quarantine under the previous guidelines.

Winston County and Haleyville City schools will be closed Oct. 12 through Oct. 14 because they had an uptick in the number of employees who were required to quarantine. “When paired with the fact that we have less substitutes this year, it has been more challenging to find coverage for classrooms over the past few days,” a social media post from Haleyville City School read.

On Thursday, Muscle Shoals officials announced the middle and high schools would shift to remote learning next week, due in part because of a shortage of employees. Two schools in Decatur shifted to remote learning this week, too, due in part to the number of students and employees quarantining.