The DeSoto County School Board held a special meeting on Tuesday to update the quarantine protocols for the school district, meaning students who have been exposed to COVID-19 may quarantine for as few as seven days in some circumstances.
The updated protocols will shorten the time needed for quarantine after exposure in two circumstances.
If the student has had no symptoms of the virus for 10 days, they may return to school. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that this approach would increase the risk of residual post-quarantine by 1%, with a maximum increase of 10%.
If the student has had no symptoms and has a negative PCR test, which is sent off to a lab for more accurate results, they may return after seven days. The CDC estimates that this approach will increase the risk for residual post-quarantine transmission by 5%, with a maximum increase of 12%.
“Local public health authorities determine and establish the quarantine options for their jurisdictions,” the CDC said in its updated guidance, released Dec. 2. “CDC currently recommends a quarantine period of 14 days. However, based on local circumstances and resources, the following options to shorten quarantine are acceptable alternatives.”
How DeSoto County Schools got here
DeSoto County Schools has recently been reporting nearly 100 new cases and hundreds of new student quarantines each week. Since the beginning of the semester, 316 teachers and staff members have tested positive for the virus. Some were nervous about returning to school in August, and at least one has died from COVID-19.
Uselton said that the district continues monitoring the number of new cases each week and stays in contact with the state health department.
The school district has followed protocols put in place by Gov. Tate Reeves, but it declined to update the protocols when the state department of health updated its guidelines to recommend Mississippians not attend any social gatherings, including sporting events. Throughout the semester, sports teams have had to cancel or postpone events after outbreaks.
The school district has adapted to the pandemic in many ways, including offering free meals for all remote learners throughout the week and shortening in-person classes on Fridays to allow for more time for online students.
Though DeSoto County has seen large-scale, fast spread of the virus in recent months, the school system has seen more success, relative to other large school districts in the state.
The district serves over 35,000 students across the county, and, though it delayed the start of the school year by one week, students have been offered in-person learning since. The district has also offered virtual learning for all students.
Most families have opted for learning in classrooms for their students, where distancing and masks have been used to prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible. In the last nine weeks, about 75% of students were in classrooms, and in the next nine weeks, 2% more students are expected in person.
Some parents have complained about the difficulty of virtual learning, and the school district said it was continually shifting and learning how to make the experience as educational as possible.