Springfield, Nixa school officials discuss new CDC COVID-19 guidelines for upcoming school year

Published: Aug. 12, 2022 at 6:46 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The CDC announced some significant changes to its COVID-19 guidelines this week right before the start of the school year, representing yet another move forward on the long road to recovery.

“We know that COVID is not gone and the pandemic is not over, but we’re in a stronger place than we were before,” explained Dr. Nancy Yoon, the Chief Medical Officer for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. “So at this point, the CDC made these changes so that the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t as severely disrupting our daily lives. And they do believe that at this point, a high percentage of the population does have some protection either from having the infection or from vaccination.”

Among the most significant changes is eliminating social distancing and staying six feet apart.

“They did want to streamline and simplify some of the recommendations, especially in settings like schools or places where people are in close contact for long periods,” Yoon said. “It does logistically complicate planning when you have to space people out. It really did affect some of the basic day-to-day operations.”

Another significant change in the CDC guidelines is that those who come in close contact with an infected person no longer have to quarantine. Instead, they are encouraged to wear masks for ten days and get tested after five days.

“Through this whole time, we’ve had to weigh the risks to the benefits,” Yoon said. “We’ve learned a lot from the recommendations in the beginning of the pandemic, and using isolation and quarantine, especially when we didn’t have vaccinations available, was one of our only tools. But what we learned was the percentage of people in quarantine who did become ill was fairly low.”

The isolation of non-ill students was already a significant point of contention in Missouri after Attorney General Eric Schmitt threatened to sue schools that required masks or sent students home because they had been exposed to a sick classmate.

“Due to a lot of the legal decisions that came out last school year, we really haven’t been quarantining students (for exposure),” said Nixa Public School Chief Communications Officer Zac Rantz. “We did recommend that they stay home, but the health department is the one that has the legal authority to quarantine, and when those opinions from the state said to stop doing that, there was no legal authority for us to quarantine students if they were exposed. So what the CDC is doing right now is kind of where Missouri ended up being after all those opinions came out.

“That decision has been placed back on the individuals, the parents, and guardians,” added Springfield Public Schools Health Services Coordinator Lee Ann Neill. “We’re going to see people feeling better about what they’re being told they can or can’t do, but they do still need to be paying attention to the fact that when they’re sick, they need to be at home. They need to see their provider and test if they have symptoms.”

And school districts still have the right to require students who have COVID-19 to quarantine.

“It’s like any illness that’s contagious,” Rantz pointed out. “We have chicken pox, the flu, strep throat, and now we have COVID. If they’re contagious and exposing people, we just follow those guidelines, and they stay home.”

And if you walk into a school as the new year gets underway, you will notice it will be very different from the previous two years.

“You’re going to see less-and-less of those physical prevention strategies being used,” Neill said of the many visual scenes like plexiglass partitions between desks, social distancing markers on the floor, and water fountains cordoned off to keep them from being used. “I’m thankful that we did have the learning curve, but I’m also very thankful that we’re inching closer to having a learning environment where we still feel safe but get back to seeing those smiling faces and those things we enjoy in the school setting.”

“From visitors to water fountains to assemblies, they’re going to all go back to basics how they were pre-COVID as much as possible,” Rantz said.

“I think it is a good thing that schools will look a little more ‘normal,’ but I think we need to remain flexible,” Yoon added. “And if the situation changes, we may need to change some of our recommendations.”

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