Covid Update: NSBORO updating quarantine policies and offering post-holiday testing to ARHS students (Updated)

This Wednesday, the Combined School Committees voted to replace their quarantine procedures with the versions recommended by CDC and the state. In addition, the Regional School Committee approved a second round of Covid testing for Algonquin students to follow winter break.

Here are the Covid-related highlights from the two meetings that night.

Revised Quarantine Policies

The school had a strict at least 14 day quarantine policy from the last date of exposure to someone Covid-positive. Now the length of time could be shorter based on case circumstances. Variations  include symptoms/lack of and whether or not the patient chooses to get tested.

Isolation and quarantine periods will be determined by the public health nurse following a decision tree.

Wellness Director Mary Ellen Duggan outline periods potentially as short as 7 days of quarantine from their last contact with someone confirmed Covid positive. [Editor’s Note: In practice, it’s likely some quarantines will be shorter. Based on when a Covid test results come back, it can be days before close contacts learn of their exposure.]

Quarantines for travel were also revised to allow students/staff to return to school sooner based on negative test results.

[Editor’s Note: This afternoon, as I predicted, the Superintendent’s weekly email to parents included a link to the new Quarantine guidelines. You can read those here.]

Covid Screening

As I previously shared, Algonquin students are being offered optional Covid tests heading into winter break. On Wednesday, the Regional School Committee voted to offer another round before students return to in-person schooling.

The vote was to authorize remote-only school at ARHS for two extra days after break.* The time will be used to facilitate Covid tests for students. That will allow the school to isolate students who test positive. However, the testing is still optional and not required to return to school or to participate in winter sports.

In an update on the district’s screening program, Superintendent Gregory Martineau cited that 3 staff members out of about 600 tested positive.

The first round of testing for Algonquin students is this coming Monday and Tuesday. When testing was announced, the administration referred to creating “a baseline”. Administrators clarified on Wednesday night that the data will help them extrapolate how pooling can work and the cost of testing going forward.

Initially, the administration also indicated that a full district shift to remote schooling next week was to allow nursing staff to combine resources for the testing of high schoolers. At this week’s meeting, Martineau acknowledged that it was also about giving school staff “peace of mind” when they head into winter break. 

Most staff will be tested on Friday afternoon. Some overseeing pre-K and special needs students for a half day on Monday will be tested after that.  That eliminates possible student to teacher transmission after the most recent test.

However, as District Physician Safdar Medina noted in this week’s discussion, someone who is exposed to the virus can have too little virus in their system at the time of testing to register as positive. The viral load builds up over a number of days. (In the quarantine methodology, testing is recommended 5 days or more after being exposed.)

As for the testing of selecting only the high school student population, Dr. Medina noted that more cases were being found in their older students, especially juniors and seniors, than the lower grades.

Recent surveys of all district parents included gauging parents’ interest in supporting a broader Covid testing program for students. The results of that and other parent surveys won’t be be shared with the school committees until January. Data will be used to “determine a path forward” to potentially increase in-person student attendance.

The goal is to phase-in increased attendance starting with the youngest elementary students, then moving up in grades. At last week’s Southborough School Committee meeting, it was noted that changes weren’t expected before February break.

As for ARHS students being tested next week, an email to families pitched the benefits of testing while cautioning to still take care even if tests come back negative:

Remember that a negative test is only a snapshot in time, and does not mean that the person who was tested will not become infectious shortly after the test was taken. Our current very high community rates mean that it is absolutely critical to wear masks at all times when gathering with people you don’t live with, even if they have been in your “COVID bubble” or “pod” for many months. Everyone’s risk of exposure is much higher now than it has ever been during the pandemic. . .

Participating in the screening DOES NOT make it safe to plan indoor gatherings or sleepovers with people that live outside of your household.

Participating in the screening DOES NOT change anything about maintaining distance and wearing masks when with people that live outside of your household. . .

Most important: wear a mask any time you are indoors with anyone you don’t live with!

*January 4th was already scheduled as a full remote Monday. The vote authorized delaying Algonquin’s hybrid attendance to Thursday, January 7th.

Updated (12/18/20 4:49 pm): As I assumed, the District’s Weekly Update issued this afternoon included a link to the new quarantine policies. It also included the news on Algonquin’s plans for post-break re-entry.

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