AUGUSTA — City school officials say revisions made this week to COVID-19 education standards that allow schools with universal masking to make contact tracing optional will reduce the workload for nurses and administrators.

The new guidelines means individual families will no longer be notified if their child was a close contact, according to the district website.

James Anastasio, superintendent of the Augusta Public Schools, spoke to the Board of Education on Wednesday night about conversations the superintendent region presidents had with Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

Anastasio said in the meeting with the superintendents, they started to discuss how to develop metrics for schools if they wanted to get rid of contact tracing burdens and tried to find a basis from the number of students and staff members vaccinated against COVID-19 and the number of school members involved in pool testing.

“Dr. Shah was listening and hearing things he hadn’t heard before and talked about the change in the medical community and how it (COVID-19) spread so quickly and it’s not affecting people as long (as in the past),” Anastasio said.

Augusta Public Schools are anticipating telling parents to keep an eye on their children’s symptoms if they are a close contact outside of the community and not to send them to school if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or a fever.

School officials are still asking parents to let them know if their child has COVID-19, since the school district will still track positive cases within school walls. Anastasio reminded the board that the new guideline on contact tracing could change in the near future depending on COVID-19 rates.

The Department of Education said Wednesday the new guidelines are needed because the omicron variant of COVID-19 “is far more contagious than other variants, has a shorter incubation period and tends to spread in the early part of infection, making community exposures more frequent and consequently, reducing the effectiveness of contact tracing in schools.”

The statement continued, saying contact tracing in a timely matter has become “increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for school personnel given the fast spread.”

Last week, state officials also altered the quarantine time within school guidelines from 10 to five days, prompting confusion among some local school boards.

Assistant Superintendent Katy Grondin said the change in guidelines might bring some anxiety to staff members, but reminded the community of pool testing and encouraged families to sign their students up, since pool testing is optional.

Students and staff members who tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days are excluded from the pools.

The new change will allow many administrators, nurses and teachers to relieve the huge workload contact tracing brought. Augusta Public Schools officials met with the school nurses to make sure it is something the nurses agree with doing. On Thursday, district officials are speaking with teachers to gather their reactions on the new measure.

“The nurses felt comfortable and felt like it gave them an opportunity to really monitor students, and it releases principals to do the work they need to do,” Grondin said. “When there are seven pools (testing) coming in, it’s the nurses and the principals trying to do it. Everyone is working and stepping up.”

The Augusta Public Schools teacher vaccination rate is the lowest at Lincoln Elementary School, at a rate of 78%,  and the highest at Cony Middle School with 95%. Students have a vaccination rate in Augusta between 85-90%, according to the CDC.

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