ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — New guidance from the New York State Department of Health gives local health departments more autonomy in regards to how COVID-19 protocols are implemented in schools.
The new guidance, issued in a memo published Wednesday, addresses Test to Stay (TTS), COVID-19 testing to permit return to school after symptoms, testing out of quarantine, and exemption to weekly unvaccinated staff or teacher testing for recently recovered persons.
Test to stay
The guidance gives local health departments the option to use the test to stay strategy. Test to stay is a mitigation strategy that allows unvaccinated close contacts of people with COVID-19 to avoid school exclusion by testing negative with a rapid NAAT or antigen test on each school day for seven days after exposure.
“At this time, the NYSDOH does not recommend TTS,” the memo said. “However, if LHDs (local health departments) choose to allow TTS to occur in schools within their jurisdiction, NYSDOH encourages them to ensure the following:
The school/district must have a written protocol that: (A) Considers equity (i.e., families should not have to pay for testing, or if they do, then the inability to pay should not prevent a student from being eligible for TTS), (B) includes actions to follow-up on transmission (e.g., contact tracing) in the event that an individual tests positive, and (C) other factors deemed essential or important by the LHD or school.The daily test must be conducted and the results received before the school day begins, and positive individuals excluded/isolated per existing procedures.If the test is done in an unmonitored setting (e.g., home), a mechanism to ensure that the test is done correctly and on the correct person must exist.The exposed person who is allowed to remain in school through TTS must still be quarantined outside of school instruction/academic periods (on weekends/holidays when the seven-day TTS period is still active, but no school test is required; after school/evenings; no community activities or extracurricular participation including clubs, sports, arts/performance activities, etc.).If the exposed person who is allowed to remain in school through TTS develop”
To note: The test to stay strategy allows close contacts of infected people to avoid school exclusion, but not other parameters of quarantine.
Until now, test to stay hasn’t been an option for New York school districts, although it has been used in other states.
Officials say the health department will not provide new test to stay technical assistance or resources for schools in jurisdictions who permit the strategy.
Test to return after symptoms
The new health department guidance also expands the accessibility of which COVID-19 tests count for people to return to schools.
Previously, a NAAT test was required to permit individuals to return to school after developing COVID-like symptoms, but those tests can be slow with results.
“Understanding that the turnaround time for some laboratory-based NAATs may result in multiple-day exclusions from school for people with mild symptoms, NYSDOH is amending its guidance to allow people who either (a) are fully vaccinated, or (b) have had a COVID-19 infection within the last 90 days to return to school following a negative antigen test result.”
According to the guidance, people who are not fully vaccinated, and who have not had COVID-19 within the past 90 days, still must receive a negative NAAT result before returning to school, unless specific otherwise criteria is met.
Test out of quarantine
Like test to stay, the state does not currently recommend a test out of quarantine policy, but will give local health departments the option to adopt this process.
This strategy allows people under quarantine to shorten their quarantine by receiving negative COVID-19 test results.
According to the health department, local health departments that choose to adopt this policy should align with CDC recommendations, which are as follwows:
“When diagnostic testing resources are sufficient and available, then quarantine can end after Day 7 if a diagnostic specimen tests negative and if no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring. The specimen may be collected and tested within 48 hours before the time of planned quarantine discontinuation (e.g., in anticipation of testing delays), but quarantine cannot be discontinued earlier than after Day 7.”
Like jurisdictions that adopt test to stay, officials say the state will not provide new assistance or resources for areas that adopt test out of quarantine.
Exemptions to weekly testing
The memo also includes new guidance pertaining to weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated staff and teachers.
Department of Health officials say asymptomatic individuals exposed to COVID-19, who were previously diagnosed and confirmed to have COVID-19, and have since recovered, are not required to retest and quarantine within three months after the date of symptom onset from the initial infection, or date of first positive diagnostic test if they remain asymptomatic during the illness.
Health department officials say schools will have to keep track of when the three months is over, at which time the staff members would need to resume regular testing.
If these are adopted
State guidance says if these aforementioned strategies are adopted, certain requirements must be met, inclduing:
“Ensure that schools remain current on their reporting of all COVID-19 test results—including all results of home testing (if permitted)—to the New York State COVID-19 Report Card, in addition to their other reporting obligations under public health law;Assess available local resources, especially related to testing availability and accessibility, prior to allowing the practice(s). NYSDOH will not make resources (e.g., antigen test kits), beyond that which is currently available, available to LHDs in order to facilitate “Test to Stay” and “Testing out of Quarantine” as described below. (Please note that testing related to the following practices is considered an allowable expense under ELC School Reopening Funding); ANDEnsure the opportunity to participate is available to every school in the county. Adoption of the following practices I-III must be a county-level, not school-level, decision in order to guarantee consistency in local administration of quarantine and isolation review responsibilities under Public Health Law Article 21 and its related regulations. For example, LHDs may not permit a school that has access to independent funding for test kits to adopt “Test to Stay” while prohibiting another school with inadequate resources from doing so.”
Officials from the Monroe County Department of Public Health said Thursday morning they are currently evaluating the guidance.
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.