CDPH updates K-12 quarantine recommendations and introduces new contact tracing approach

The California Department of Public Health on Jan. 12 updated its COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools to include new quarantine recommendations and introduce a group contact tracing approach that can be used by local educational agencies.

Student close contacts who have completed the primary series of COVID-19 vaccines or were previously infected with (laboratory confirmed) SARS-CoV-2 within the last 90 days should NOT quarantine if they do not have symptoms.

Student close contacts who have not completed the primary series of COVID-19 vaccines nor were previously infected with (laboratory confirmed) SARS-CoV-2 within the last 90 days may undergo a modified quarantine when both parties were wearing a mask, as required in K-12 indoor settings, and may continue to attend school if they:

  • are asymptomatic;
  • continue to appropriately mask, as required;
  • undergo at least twice weekly testing during quarantine; and
  • continue to quarantine for all extracurruriculars at school, including sports, and activities within the community setting.

CDPH has introduced another option in place of modified quarantine — Group-Tracing Approach to Students Exposed to COVID-19 in a K-12 setting. According to the press release, “The framework allows for a quicker and broader response to cases identified in school settings, accomplishable through prompt notification, testing, and isolation protocols.” Group contact tracing is applicable to students who were in the same indoor air space as someone with COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes (within a 24 hour period.)

Recommendations for students exposed to someone with COVID-19 in a K-12 school:

1. Schools should notify students who spent more than a cumulative total of 15 minutes (within a 24-hour time period) in a shared indoor airspace with someone with COVID-19 during their period of infectiousness.

    1. Notification should occur to “groups” of exposed students (e.g., classmates, teammates, cohorts, etc.) rather than contact tracing to identify individual “close contacts” (e.g., those within 6 feet).
    2. Notifications should be provided to all individuals considered exposed, including those who are vaccinated and/or recently infected. For example, if a student in 10th grade is diagnosed with COVID-19, the school should notify groups with whom that student interacted as per the criteria above, such as those in the same classes, sports team, and/or other extracurricular cohorts.
    3. A sample notification letter is available here for schools to edit and use.

2. Exposed students, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status or prior infection, should get tested for COVID-19 with at least one diagnostic test obtained within 3-5 days after last exposure.

  1. In the event of wide-scale and/or repeated exposures, broader (e.g., grade-wide or campus-wide) once-weekly testing for COVID-19 may be considered until such time that exposure events become less frequent.
  2. Any FDA-approved antigen diagnostic test, PCR diagnostic test or pooled PCR test is acceptable for evaluation of an individual’s COVID-19 status. For individuals who have been recently infected (within the past 90 days), antigen testing is strongly recommended as PCR results may remain persistently positive and not be indicative of a new active infection. Repeat antigen testing and/or confirmatory molecular testing should be considered in individuals who receive a negative result with an antigen test but have symptoms specific for COVID-19 (such as loss of taste and smell).
  3.  Exposed students who participate in testing may continue to take part in all aspects of K-12 schooling, including sports and extracurricular activities, unless they develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19. They should test as recommended in Section 2, report positive test results to the school and follow other components of this guidance, including wearing face-coverings as directed.
    • Exposed students who develop symptoms should see Section 4 of the K-12 Guidance.
    • Exposed students who receive a positive test result should isolate in accordance with Section 10 of the K-12 Guidance.