Playing (Deadly) Games With Covid

[Ed. Note: The following, by DC parent Wendy Cronin, is a description of a meeting held by OSSE (office of the state superintendent of education) for school leaders on March 14, 2022. Cronin’s summary contains important information about what OSSE is doing—and not doing—to protect students. You can also watch the meeting, which is about an hour long, if only to understand how information about our schools in a deadly pandemic is presented (and to partake of several eyebrow-raising moments, like the department of health rep smiling while elaborating at minute 49 about “autonomy”). The video was (at least as of last week) available by registration here. The slide deck for the meeting is here. If neither works, try here (slide deck) and here (video). The person leading the meeting is Caitlin Shauck from OSSE.

Some quick notes: there is no meeting chat that I was able to see, and although participants wrote questions for the presenters, not all of the questions appear to have been answered. It is also not clear whether individual schools (as opposed to LEAs) are allowed to make their own mask rules now that masks are not mandated for most in our publicly funded schools—on p. 16 of the slide deck it says that “mask mandates can be introduced by schools as needed,” but in the video, Shauck says mandates are at “the discretion of LEAs [local education agencies].” Also just fyi: PCR tests are a type of nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT).]

By Wendy Cronin

I was able to watch a recording of the March 14 OSSE briefing for LEA leaders. The briefing was about changes in COVID protocols enforced by OSSE. In addition to lifting the mask mandate, there is more that is alarming. Here’s what else is happening:

Testing: Schools will no longer be required to conduct asymptomatic testing after April 1. Household members with covid are no longer considered close contacts. Students are welcome to go to school if a family member has covid. [For a real-life illustration of what this policy means, see here.]

Test to Stay (TTS): Masking has been removed from the TTS criteria. Even if neither an infected student nor close contacts wear masks, close contacts may still test-to-stay and are not required to wear masks during the 7 days after exposure.

Close Contacts: The definition of classroom close contacts remains the same as before, except for the removal of masks from the requirement. A close contact is a student who has been closer than 3 feet to an infected student for more than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period. Even if all students in a class are not wearing masks, only those within 3 feet of the infected students for the required length of time qualify as close contacts.

–A symptomatic student who tests negative on an antigen test is no longer required to get a PCR test to confirm. She can just return to school even while she has symptoms, as long as she meets the school’s regular health requirements. 

Buses: Masks are not required on OSSE school buses.

Travel: There are no longer any travel restrictions or requirements. DC Health simply recommends DC residents not travel when infected with covid.

Boosters are not required for kids 12-17 years old to avoid quarantine upon exposure. 

Some other things to note:

–They said DC Department of Health (DOH) Health has removed much of their own guidance and is now referring residents and agencies (like OSSE) instead to the CDC.

–They said DOH will likely require masks again when DC reaches HIGH on the CDC community levels chart. (Please note this is not the same as HIGH community transmission. It is possible to have HIGH transmission and LOW community level. Community level is a metric based on hospital capacity. See below *** for more.)

–The rep from DOH on the call said DOH knows that masks help reduce infection in schools and they expect school infections to go up due to the reduced mitigations. She said she is continuing to wear her mask and will continue to do so.

–They said DCPS schools are required to follow the DCPS rules on reporting cases. They did not say where to find these rules.

***A note about the CDC’s community levels is warranted. The CDC recently announced a new metric for measuring covid and pegged indicators to LOW, MEDIUM, and HIGH. The new metric is called “Community Levels” and is defined thusly:

(Copyright 2022, CDC–this is a screenshot from this website.)

The old metric pegged LOW and HIGH to the level of community transmission, defined thusly:

(Copyright 2022, CDC–this is a screenshot from clicking on the link embedded in “how is community transmission calculated” next to the map of the United States on this website.)

The CDC’s website, maps, and tweets are all focusing on community levels, and they have buried the community transmission pretty well. [Indeed: the CDC website literally says to use the community levels to “determine impact” and “take action,” while transmission levels are “provided for healthcare facility use only.”] But CDC hasn’t changed community transmission. CDC still has the same transmission ratings: Low still requires case counts under 10/100k. But as you can see, community level is really just about how full the hospitals are. So DC could have a case count of 199/100k and still have a community level of LOW.

Basing mitigations like masks in schools on community level instead of on community transmission is obviously insane.

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