Note: This article has been updated from the version appearing in the Saturday print edition to include the county provided recommendations.
PITTSBURG, Kan. — Two weeks. Fourteen days. 336 hours. 20,160 minutes. If you’ve ever had to quarantine over the last few months, you know these figures well. Since March, 14 days has been the required isolation period for anyone exposed to COVID-19. It’s been one of the only constants during this time of great change and uncertainty.
However, the Crawford County Commission — upon a recommendation from the county’s public health officer — has approved a measure that changes that period of isolation for students exposed to the virus in a classroom.
On Friday, the commission approved a recommendation from the health department that would eliminate the required 14-day isolation period and move to a modified quarantine model for anyone exposed to COVID-19 while in a classroom or at school.
“We do not believe that classroom contacts in the mitigated scenario following all the rules that we have outlined with the schools should be considered a close contact for quarantine,” said Crawford County Public Health Officer Dr. Tim Stebbins.
The recommendation comes after studying nine weeks of data from the schools and concluding that with the current mitigation methods in Crawford County schools, transmission in a classroom setting has not happened and is not likely to happen, according to Stebbins.
“Being in a math class does not appear to increase your risk of getting COVID-19,” Stebbins said.
Students exposed in a classroom setting will still be notified, as will their families, but instead of the required isolation, they will have the option to remain in school.
As long as all other mitigation strategies are followed, the county will continue “monitoring and tracking classroom exposures” and “recommendations may change if concerns arise for in-classroom spread.” This policy was approved by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Stebbins said this option only applies to in-classroom exposure and not exposure at social events, practices or extracurricular activities. He said students and their families will also be given the option to still do a two-week quarantine, but it will be a choice made by parents.
“I don’t think any of us think we know their kids better than them,” Stebbins said.
However, Stebbins said this change in policy comes so kids are not quarantined unnecessarily, which could have an adverse effect on their schoolwork.
“I don’t think we should impede inappropriately on somebody’s right to be able to move around without a reasonable expectation that they’re going to be sick or transmit this to somebody else,” he said. “That’s a balance we’ve tried to strike from the very beginning using current science, current data and common sense.”
Stebbins stressed that this is only able to happen because of the current mitigation techniques the schools have implemented like temperature checks and required masks, and this new policy will only apply to K-12.
“It's the only area where we have all of those features in place to make sure that we’re not increasing spread or having other issues with respect to COVID-19,” he said.
The commission was on board with the recommendations with the only concern coming from County Commissioner Jeremy Johnson, who was worried that pushing this change out immediately could overwhelm the teachers and disrupt the classroom.
“I guess my concern is making sure everyone is on the same page before being like ‘Oh hey Monday, teachers you’re going to have kids in your classrooms that you thought were supposed to be quarantined,’” Johnson said.
However, County Commissioner Bruce Blair said he didn’t think it would disrupt anything too much.
“It’s not going to change the classroom dynamics other than the fact that you’re not going to get a phone call saying, ‘You’ve been quarantined because you sat next to such and such in second period,’” he said.
Stebbins assured the commission that this wouldn’t be coming out of the blue for the school districts.
“We had a meeting with all the superintendents on Tuesday and discussed this specific outline,” he said.
Overall, the county commission and the health department agreed that this was the best course of action.
“It keeps kids in school, which is important,” Blair said.
The recommendations were unanimously approved by the commission in a 3-0 vote. The new modified quarantine system will begin as early as Monday for Crawford County schools.