FARMINGTON — The Mt. Blue school board voted unanimously Tuesday to adjust its COVID-19 policies, which include changes to requirements for quarantine and isolation lengths, close-contact definitions and quarantine exemptions.

The adjustments, which can be found on the district’s website, are in accordance with Maine Center for Disease Control and Department of Education recommendations.

At a special meeting, the Regional School Unit 9 directors decreased its requirements for isolation of COVID-19 positive individuals and quarantine of non-exempt close contacts from 10 days to five. Individuals isolating or quarantining are required to mask around others for an additional 10 days following the five days.

On Dec. 30, the Maine CDC and DOE revised their Standard Operating Procedure for investigating COVID-19 in schools to require isolation and quarantining for five days, which is in accordance with the federal CDC’s overall COVID guidelines. The CDC/DOE revision is “designed to minimize disruption and keep students in class,” according to reporting by the Portland Press Herald.

Aside from the amended timeline, individuals at RSU 9 who test positive for COVID-19 — regardless of vaccination status — must isolate for five days before returning to school and the community with approval from school nurses following an assessment on whether symptoms have improved or not surfaced. Those who are initially asymptomatic must restart the five-day isolation period at the onset of symptoms.

The amended quarantine exemptions for close contacts, those that are exposed within six feet of a COVID-19 positive individual for more than 15 minutes, vary.

A close contact does not have to quarantine but must mask around others for 10 days if:

• They’ve received the booster shot.

• Are fully vaccinated, 16 or 17 years old, but have not yet received a booster shot.

• Are not eligible for the booster shot, but are fully vaccinated.

• Completed their second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within six months, or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine within two months.

• Have contracted and tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 90 days.

There is some overlap, but essentially, a close contact is not required to quarantine as long as they have been fully vaccinated. A fully-vaccinated status requires receiving the booster shot in addition to the Moderna and Pfizer shots or the J&J shot. However, 16-17 year olds are not required to get the booster, though they are eligible. All individuals over the age of 18, students or staff, are required to have received the booster shot in order to qualify for the exemption.

The Summary of Quarantine Exceptions chart provided in the CDC/DOE’s Standard Operating Procedure document mistakenly excluded that final exemption from their initial list. However, they amended the list after questions were raised by this reporter.

Close contacts who participate in pooled testing or attend a school that enforces universal masking, as RSU 9 does, are not fully exempt. Rather, they can still attend school but are required to quarantine from the community for five days and wear a mask around others for 10 days.

Ultimately, this means that staff and students at RSU 9 are no longer required to miss school or school events if they are identified as a close contact. However, some are required to quarantine from the community.

Previously, universal masking was not considered an exemption for close contacts within three-foot proximity to an exposure for more than 15 minutes. The universal masking mandate did enable the district to alter its quarantine requirements so that close contacts in the 3-to-6 foot proximity of an exposure for more than 15 minutes did not have to quarantine.

Aside from the shortened time periods, the new procedures have also changed the definition of close contacts on school buses and outdoor settings. Previously, exposures that occurred on a school bus — even outside of the 3-foot proximity — were considered close contacts.

Now, RSU 9’s policy states that “exposure that occurs in an outdoor setting or on a school bus does not constitute close contact.” Additionally, the CDC/DOE states that “this applies even where there is physical contact in outdoor settings” in situations such as sporting events.

The guidelines were changed amid developing research on the omicron COVID-19 variant, which Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, said is “concerning” and likely more contagious than the highly infectious delta variant.

She reports that the first five cases involving omicron were detected in Maine on Dec. 21, 2021, following the U.S. CDC’s announcement that it is now the dominant variant in America.

The full impact of the holiday break on COVID-19 transmissions for staff and students at RSU 9 is not yet clear. In a health notice released Monday, the district was informed that 32 people had tested positive for COVID-19 from Dec. 31, 2021, to Jan. 3. The case count on the website also states that in the week ending Dec. 31, 18 staff members and students across the district tested positive.

In addition to the policy changes, Superintendent Chris Elkington and Laura Columbia listed some “next possible steps” in their letter detailing the policy revisions.

The letter says that a possible step could be “removal of universal masking? If it is a recommendation from the Maine CDC and DOE . . .  (as) there appears to be some discussion statewide on whether a certain percentage of students and staff in pooled testing were met” could allow for the removal of the masking mandate.

No announcements or reports on this potential change have been made.

Sun Journal Staff Writer Emily Bader contributed to this report.

This story has been updated with new information from the Maine CDC regarding COVID-19 quarantine exemptions.


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