The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has announced changes to COVID-19 guidelines for schools, and with those changes a number of procedures that were previously required by the state are now optional.
Falling infection rates, reduced hospitalization rates, the availability of vaccines and treatments, and the impact of universal masking on the learning environment led to the state’s decision to relax a number of COVID-19 mandates in schools. Additionally, the CDC recently issued new guidelines saying most Americans live in places where healthy people, including students, can safely take a break from wearing masks.
When it comes to masking, it is important to note that anyone who wants to wear a mask may continue to do so. We encourage families to talk with their student(s) to help them understand that the pandemic has caused many unknowns, and everyone is just trying to do what they think is best for their unique family situation.
DOH Guidance Summary
Masks and face coverings:
- Masks/face coverings are optional in school buildings and buses. People may choose to continue wearing masks or face coverings. We will respect individual choices regarding masks.
- Masks/face coverings may be required in some situations, such as after isolation due to a positive COVID-19 test or as the result of an outbreak.
- Masks are required in school health rooms, as these are considered health care settings.
- Regardless of vaccination status, students and staff members experiencing COVID-19 symptoms must stay home, should get tested or see a health care provider, and follow the return to school protocol (see DOH Decision Tree).
- Testing for students and staff members will continue to be offered.
- Weekly testing due to a medical or religious exemption is no longer required.
- Testing for high-contact sports and performing arts is no longer required.
- There is no longer a set physical distancing requirement in the classroom or in common areas. However, schools are required to maximize the physical space between students to the degree possible and reasonable.
- Close contacts (individuals who may have been exposed) are no longer required to quarantine if they are not experiencing symptoms. They should watch for symptoms, consider wearing a mask, and get tested three to five days after exposure to COVID.
Contact tracing and family notifications:
- While case investigation and contact tracing are no longer required, our school district will continue to monitor COVID-19 activity, sending weekly case reports to all staff and families.
Cleaning and ventilation:
- Kalama School District staff will continue cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.
- The district will continue to utilize upgraded air filters throughout school buildings.
- Each building’s HVAC system will be set to maximize airflow.
Isolation after testing positive:
- Students and staff members who test positive for COVID-19 are required to isolate at home, regardless of vaccination status. The isolation period is 10 full days from the start of symptoms or the date of positive test.
- Individuals may return to school after 5 full days of isolation if:
- Their symptoms have improved or they are asymptomatic, AND
- They are without a fever for the past 24 hours without use of fever-reducing medications.
- AND IF returning to school days 6-10, the individual is required to:
- Wear a well-fitted mask or face shield with a drape during days 6-10 of their isolation period, consistent with CDC guidance, OR
- Test negative with an antigen or at-home test any day after day 5 before returning without a mask. Testing beyond day 10 is not necessary.
- If the individual is not able to wear a well-fitted mask or face shield with a drape, AND does not test negative, they are required to continue isolating through the end of their isolation period.
These changes will be met with anxiety by some and excitement by others. Again, we ask students, staff and families to please be respectful to one another as each individual decides what prevention and safety measures are right for their personal or family circumstances.