Vermont schools should plan to stop contact tracing and change testing procedures, state officials say

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French Dan
Education Secretary Dan French August 18, 2020 Photo by Mike Dougherty / VTDigger

Vermont schools should prepare to stop Covid-19 contact tracing and PCR surveillance testing ahead of a major policy change next week, the state’s top education official said on Friday.

In an email sent Friday night to local school officials and obtained by VTDigger, Education Secretary Dan French outlined an “imminent policy change” that will change the way schools handle cases. of Covid-19 in schools across the state.

The changes mark a significant policy shift for the state agency, one that state officials say will ease the heavy workload on local educators.

“One of the main factors contributing to this policy change is the rapid spread of the Omicron variant,” French wrote. “Many of the strategies that were previously effective for us will cease to be useful (if they haven’t already been) and instead become a drain on scarce resources without a clear public health benefit. “

As part of the previous recommendations, school staff were advised to create a list – called an “online list” – of all close contacts after each positive case at school.

But this labor-intensive process often consumed staff hours, a scarce resource amid school staffing issues across the state.

According to new state guidelines, school staff are advised to stop contacting trace after a positive case of coronavirus while in school. Schools should also stop surveillance PCR testing, a regime in which larger groups of students are tested regularly with slower – but more accurate tests, French said.

Instead, schools should be looking for a “faster response option”.

In the event that a student or staff member tested positive for Covid-19, schools would only notify parents whose children share a class with the Covid-19 case.

Families of unvaccinated classmates would be advised to take rapid tests for Covid-19 at school and perform five days of daily testing at home. Unvaccinated staff members identified as contacts would follow the same procedures.

The new guidelines also appear to effectively shift the burden of testing from school staff to family members of students.

In most districts of Vermont, school workers are equipped to perform “stay tests,” a regime in which close contacts of positive cases undergo rapid tests daily before class begins.

Under the guidance to come, this task would also fall on the parents.

The new guidelines follow a week that saw record-breaking Covid-19 cases and a wave of school closures.

French teased the change at a press conference ahead of last week’s vacation, but offered few details on the process.

Friday’s letter, which was first reported by Seven Days, also leaves much unanswered. On the one hand, state officials may find it difficult to collect data on Covid-19 cases from tests administered in private homes.

There is also an open question of how – or if – schools plan to ensure compliance with the new guidelines.

“We understand that this summary will not answer all of your questions, but hope you find it helpful to have this summary in advance,” French wrote in the letter, noting that further details would be provided on Monday.

The transition, French wrote, is “based on solid science” and has “the backing of infectious disease experts and pediatricians in Vermont.”

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