Virus Outbreak Mississippi

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers, right, seen in this file photo from March 13, 2020.

The Mississippi State Department of Health plans to reverse part of its quarantine protocol less than a week before most students return to the classroom.

An option to avoid a 10-day or 14-day quarantine listed in MSDH's "Isolation, Contact Tracing, and Quarantine" protocol that will be rescinded currently states:

"Unvaccinated students and staff who are exposed to COVID-19 will not require exclusion from school for quarantine if they receive any type of COVID-19 testing every two days and remain asymptomatic. At the end of 7 days, they will no longer require testing."

The testing policy was in use by the Corinth School District this week in an effort to avoid unnecessary student quarantines before MSDH officials recommended it be discontinued. The recommendation came on a conference call with State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers and superintendents across the state on Friday.

MSDH Communications Director Liz Sharlot confirmed the protocol change with the Daily Journal.

Corinth, which operates on a modified school calendar, started its 2021-22 school year on July 26 — more than a week before most other Mississippi schools resume classroom instruction.

Superintendent Dr. Lee Childress said that as of Friday, the district had already confirmed five positive COVID-19 cases among elementary and middle school students.

Corinth is one of 22 districts to sign up for school-based COVID-19 testing in partnership with MSDH. Part of that partnership involved asymptomatic testing of students, teachers and staff who opted in.

Another aspect, the protocol in question, was testing unvaccinated students who were in close contact with a positive COVID-19 case every two days in accordance with MSDH policy released on July 16, 2021.

If students tested negative and were asymptomatic, they would continue coming to school.

Childress said the district had already administered 126 COVID-19 tests, with parental permission, to students who were close contacts during the first week of school.

"We were doing that, but we will discontinue that now based on the Mississippi State Department of Health's recommendation," Childress said.

Instead, exposed students who are unvaccinated will go back to quarantining for 14 days, or for 10 days if they if they have no symptoms during the entire 10-day period, as they did last school year.

If both the infected student and the exposed student were wearing masks, the exposed student will not have to quarantine.

Corinth requires that face masks be worn by all students while riding school buses, but does not require them in the classroom. Instead, they are strongly recommended.

Childress didn't know what percentage of students and staff across the district had opted to wear masks during the first week but said some had chosen to do so.

The district will continue to publish regular COVID-19 data as it did during the 2020-21 school year, Childress said.

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