With COVID-19 case rates once again climbing in the U.S., the CDC on Friday published data showing that test-to-stay options could be an alternative to closing in-person school again. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 17 (UPI) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Friday urged school districts across the country to adopt a "test-to-stay" strategy that allows close contacts of students infected with COVID-19 to remain in classrooms if they test negative.
The strategy could allow districts to maintain in-person learning even as the Delta variant and the new Omicron strain spread in many states, officials said.
The agency made the announcement after research it released Friday found that the policy kept infection rates stable in schools in Los Angeles County, Calif., and Lake County, Ill.
"Test-to-Stay is another valuable tool in a layered prevention strategy," the agency said in a statement.
This strategy "includes promoting vaccination of eligible students and staff, requiring everyone age 2 and older wear a mask inside schools and facilities, keeping at least three feet of distance between students, screening testing, ventilation, handwashing and staying home when sick," it said.
Under the test-to-stay approach, close contacts of confirmed cases of COVID-19 are allowed to stay in school provided both the infected person and close contact were masked when an exposure might have occurred, according to the CDC.
In addition, close contacts of infected students and staff must not develop symptoms and must be tested one, three, five and seven days after potential exposure, it said.
Previously, the CDC had recommended that when a student or staffmember at a school tests positive for COVID-19, all close contacts of these individuals should stay out of school, in home quarantine, for 10 days.
However, as winter sets in across the country, and variants of the virus emerge and spread, this approach was leading to disruptions for students, parents and teachers.
With the announcement Friday, the agency is suggesting that both test-to-stay programs and quarantining approaches are safe for schools, based on currently available data.
In Los Angeles County, Calif., schools this fall, the test-to-stay strategy held infection rates among 7,511 student close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases to less than 1%, with only 53 "secondary cases," the CDC said.
Similarly, in Lake County, Illinois, which is north of Chicago, infections developed in only 16 of more than 1,000 close contacts, an infection rate of about 1.5%, it said.
Many school districts across the country have adopted test-to-stay policies to prevent students from spending long periods out of school, on remote learning, according to the CDC.
"Additionally, CDC recommends everyone age 5 years and older get a COVID-19 vaccine to help protect against" infection, the agency said in a statement, adding that teens age 16 years and older can get a booster shot at least six months after receipt of their last dose.
"Widespread vaccination for COVID-19 is a critical tool to best protect everyone from COVID-19 and COVID-19 related complications," it said.