LONG ISLAND (WABC) -- Schools that opt to test unvaccinated students exposed to COVID-19 in the classroom rather than forcing them to stay home in 10-day quarantines aren't necessarily risking an outbreak, the CDC said Friday.
The agency gave the green light for the "test-to-stay" (TTS) practice based on the findings of two studies that looked at Los Angeles County, California, and Lake County, Illinois.
The CDC says it can be employed in addition to other practices, such as vaccination and at least 3-feet of physical distance among students wearing masks.
Test-to-stay, according to experts, is another valuable tool in a layered prevention strategy that includes promoting vaccination of eligible students and staff, requiring everyone age 2 and older wear a mask inside schools and facilities, keeping at least 3 feet of distance between students, screening testing, ventilation, handwashing, and staying home when sick.
One cautionary note is that the data was collected before the U.S. detected the omicron variant, and it doesn't help families locally who have already returned to remote learning.
"I don't really like it, and I don't want to get the COVID," fourth-grader Aundray White said
She attends Clara Carlson Elementary School in Elmont, where students are back home again, leaving parents scrambling to juggle work.
"Making sure he's OK, you know, missing work," mom Tiffany said. "It's just crazy."
And in other schools, like Division Avenue High School in Levittown and East Rockaway High School, there has also been a shift to remote learning with administrators citing the outbreak of COVID cases too rapid to keep up.
Hundreds of students between all three districts are now forced to quarantine, but the CDC is hoping the new guidance may help alleviate the issues.
"There's increased testing of close contacts after a COVID-19 exposure, and that testing needs to be at least twice during the seven day period after exposure," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, "If exposed children meet a certain criteria and continue to test negative, they can stay in school instead of quarantining at home."
To stay in school, the exposed person had to remain asymptomatic and continue to wear a mask.
"Preliminary data from (LA County) suggest that a school-based TTS strategy in a large and diverse county did not increase school transmission risk," according to the LA study. "Schools might consider TTS as an option for keeping quarantined students in school to continue in-person learning."
The second study looked at 90 schools in Lake County, Illinois. Out of more than 1,035 people deemed "close contacts" to a COVID exposure, 16 students turned out to eventually test positive - a 1.5% chance.
The county estimates it saved more than 8,100 school hours by allowing people to stay in school despite exposure.
The downside, according to the study, was that it takes resources many schools don't have.
The practice requires kids and staff to stay masked whenever they are closer than 6 feet apart.
"Low-resource schools might lack space for physical distancing during lunch, resulting in unmasked exposures within 6 feet, which would disqualify students from TTS eligibility, necessitating home quarantine," the Illinois study notes.
The CDC recommends everyone ages 5 years and older get a COVID-19 vaccine to help protect against COVID-19.
Adolescents ages 16 years and older can get a booster shot at least six months after a primary series.
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