NYC Schools to Drop 5-Day COVID Quarantine Requirement According to CDC Guidance

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New York City educational institutions have revised their protocol and will no longer mandate a five-day isolation period for individuals testing positive for COVID, as per recent guidance shared with principals and available online on Monday.

Teachers and school administrators citywide have been anxiously anticipating an update, which came after more than a fortnight, following the cessation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation for a five-day isolation for COVID-positive individuals.

Since March 1, the CDC has advised individuals to remain at home until their symptoms improve and they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours sans fever-reducing medications. The CDC still suggests taking precautions over the subsequent five days, such as wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and testing.

The Education Department’s policy instructs individuals with COVID symptoms to isolate themselves and undergo testing. Similarly to the CDC guidelines, the city now advises students and faculty to stay home until symptoms abate and they have been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication. Moreover, the department recommends wearing masks and taking necessary precautions for five days upon returning to school.

For asymptomatic individuals who test positive for COVID, “there is no necessity to stay home, but precautions detailed in the revised guidelines should be followed after returning to school,” stated the email sent to principals.

The new school guidelines align with the city’s Health Department directives.

Scrapping the minimum isolation requirement is the latest in a series of changes that have relaxed COVID restrictions in schools. Federal and city health authorities have transitioned to a flu-like approach in handling the virus and other common respiratory infections. Mayor Eric Adams previously announced last spring that official proof of vaccination against the virus would no longer be obligatory for city employees and visitors to schools. Additionally, schools discontinued masking mandates, vaccine mandates for student athletes and prom attendees, daily health screenings, and in-school COVID testing for students and staff.

New York City’s public schools will still offer in-school COVID testing upon request, as per the email sent to principals. (The federal government recently concluded its program for providing free COVID tests, and the city’s public libraries no longer distribute free tests.)

Staff in schools can still take up to 10 days off for COVID-related reasons this year without utilizing their sick leave, according to the United Federation of Teachers, which communicated the updated guidelines to members on Monday evening.

COVID cases have been on a declining trend since mid-January, following an increase in cases during the holiday season in the city. As of March 14, there were approximately 22 cases per 100,000 individuals, based on New York City’s seven-day average reported by the Health Department. This number was slightly lower than the previous week and had decreased from about 87 cases per 100,000 individuals in September.

While the city’s Health Department categorizes cases by age group, school-specific data on the virus is no longer publicly disclosed. In September, the Education Department in the city dismissed a map that monitored the daily cases among students and staff across various schools.

Multiple requests for the city’s COVID guidelines for schools in recent weeks were left unanswered by the Education and Health departments.

Michael Elsen-Rooney contributed.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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