Updated guidance: Quarantine Protocols for Positive COVID-19 Cases

Updated guidance: Quarantine Protocols for Positive COVID-19 Cases
Posted on 03/02/2021

Dear CPS staff members and families,

I am writing to provide clarification and updated guidance on quarantine procedures when cases of COVID-19 are found in schools.

Given the different dynamics at different grade bands, Cambridge Public Health Department (CPHD) and CPS will implement the following quarantine protocols if a staff or student in a classroom tests positive for the virus:

  • PK - 5: The entire classroom will be closed for ten days and the staff and students will be directed to quarantine

  • Grades 6 - 8: CPHD will work with CPS to examine the individual situation in more detail and determine what level of quarantining will be required.

  • Grades 9 - 12: CPHD will work with CPS to examine the individual situation in more detail and determine what level of quarantining will be required.

See details below for more information on this decision.

Background Information
As you know, until now only elementary, substantially-separate special education and sheltered English immersion classrooms have been attending school in person. Within these full-day settings, Cambridge Public Health Department (CPHD) has routinely recommended quarantine for entire classrooms when an individual COVID case was found within a classroom. In part, this is because it is assumed that over the course of a whole day, many small lapses in mask-wearing or physical distancing may have occurred among our youngest students.

With expansion of in-person learning, CPHD will approach quarantining directives in a deliberative and nuanced manner that takes into account the specifics of the situation, structure of the learning environment, the timeline of when a student or staff member was in the school building, and the age and developmental skills of students. Decisions of CPHD will also reflect new guidelines on quarantine developed by the CDC and the MA Department of Public Health, which have evolved to reflect greater knowledge about the virus.

While the specifics of every case will be considered on an individual basis, we are sharing the following general guidelines so that members of the CPS community can be aware of what to expect with the expansion of in-person learning as of March 1. As always CPHD and CPS will monitor our protocols and make changes as needed.

  • Guideline for Elementary Grades PK - 5: Existing quarantining practices will be followed for pre-Kindergarten - Grade 5. This means that if a staff or student in a classroom tests positive for the virus, the entire classroom will be closed for ten days and the staff and students will be directed to quarantine. As stated above, given the age of these students and the fact that they are together as a group for a full day, it is likely that many small lapses in mask protocols may have occurred. In addition, the move to three feet of distancing for students means that contact tracing would find many instances qualifying as close contacts within the classroom. Therefore, CPHD will maintain its protocol of quarantining a classroom if one member tests positive.

  • Upper School Grades 6-8: CPHD has advised that baseline assumptions will be different for students in Grades 6-8 going forward. Given the half-day schedule, grab-and-go lunch model and developmental maturity of older students, large group quarantines will be far less common for this grade group. Rather than automatically calling for quarantining a full classroom if a student or staff member in the classroom tests positive, CPHD will work with CPS to examine the situation in more detail and then determine what level of quarantining will be required. If distancing and masking protocols were followed, it is unlikely that the entire classroom or group would be required to quarantine.

  • High School Grades 9 - 12: Similar to the Upper Schools, CPHD will not make an automatic decision to close and quarantine a classroom or large group when there is a positive case at the high school. Most high school students will change classes every 80 minutes, will remain at 6 feet of distancing and will take lunch with them when they leave for the day. Because of these factors CPHD will work with CPS to understand the specifics of the situation. Quarantine will not be required if distancing and masking protocols were followed. We expect that in most cases it will not be necessary for an entire classroom or large group to be quarantined as a result of one positive case.

It is important to understand that CPHD and CPS are in constant communication every day, and specifics of an individual case can be gathered very quickly through this close collaboration. Decisions about quarantine are not made lightly, but our goal is to investigate and make a determination the same day as we become aware when someone in a school community has tested positive.

The health and safety of our students and staff is a fundamental condition for learning, and we will continue to do our best to maintain the safest possible environment for our in-person learners.

Thank you for doing your part to contribute to a healthy environment for all.

Sincerely,

Kenneth N. Salim, Ed.D.
Superintendent

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