For seven days, before school starts, close contacts of the infected child take a coronavirus test. If they have no symptoms and a negative test result, they can head to class.
One district, Marietta, Ga., began a test-to-stay policy in September, more than a month after school started. Before that, from Aug. 3 to Aug. 20, 51 positive tests sent nearly 1,000 people into quarantine. “That’s a lot of school, especially for children that are recovering from 18 months in a pandemic,” Grant Rivera, the superintendent, said.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
And students barely learn in quarantine, The Associated Press has reported.
The C.D.C. says that it “does not have enough evidence” to support the approach. It recommends that close contacts who have not been fully vaccinated stay in quarantine for as long as 14 days. (Vaccinated close contacts can remain in the classroom as long as they have no symptoms and wear a mask, according to the agency’s school guidance.)
Still, test-to-stay programs are spreading through the U.S. And countries in Western Europe have invested in rapid antigen testing to keep people out of unnecessary quarantines, as my colleagues at The Morning newsletter explained on Tuesday.
British schools, for instance, have long relied on regular rapid testing instead of masks.
Researchers there found that schools with test-to-stay programs did not have significantly higher case rates than schools with mandatory quarantines. The researchers found that roughly 2 percent of school-based close contacts ultimately tested positive.
And in Utah, where 13 schools conducted test-to-stay events earlier this year, just 0.7 percent of 13,809 students tested positive, researchers reported in May. The program saved more than 100,000 in-person student days last winter, the researchers found.
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