Governor Stitt announced new school quarantine guidelines on January 12. The announcement included mask-wearing and social distancing as safety protocols, but allowed for schools to skip the previously mandatory two-week quarantine period for exposure to COVID-19.
Both Governor Stitt and Dr. Lance Frye, the Commissioner of Health, emphasized that the new policy for the Oklahoma State Department of Health is intended to keep students and faculty safe, but also to keep them in school.
“We need to put our students first, and we need to get them back in class,” said Gov. Stitt. “Refusing to offer in-person school is jeopardizing our kids’ education; it’s jeopardizing teachers’ careers; and it’s jeopardizing the future of the State of Oklahoma. Today, we’re announcing a new policy that will help us keep schools open safely. It will also help encourage and reward mask wearing in schools across the state. Moving forward, schools that enforce the use of masks will not have to quarantine students that were potentially exposed to COVID-19 unless they are showing symptoms.”
The new policy states that if mask-wearing and social distancing recommendations were not followed, schools should continue using the two-week quarantine period.
This updated quarantine guidance does not apply to exposure to COVID-19 while participating in after-school activities or sporting events.
Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 must continue to isolate regardless where they contracted the virus or were wearing a mask.
Currently, the state of Oklahoma is working to vaccinate teachers who are 65 and older followed by opening up vaccinations to all teachers as availability allows. The state will also double the amount of rapid antigen tests provided to schools to encourage frequent testing to catch any positive cases early.
“As a physician, I follow the science, and it’s been critical to our COVID-19 response to do so,” said Commissioner Frye. “But it’s also important to look at factors on the ground, and schools have proven to be one of the safest places for most of our students. Other states such as Missouri, Utah and Ohio have put similar quarantine policies into place and haven’t seen large outbreaks occur in schools. This aligns with the trends we’ve seen in our own state, largely thanks to our parents, students, teachers and school administrators who have been doing an outstanding job following precautions and keeping our students safe.”
Frye added, “Data also shows—and the CDC recommends—that getting students safely back to in-person learning is critical for their educational success, mental health and social development. Our public health decisions need to balance all facets of health, and we’re confident this new policy will allow our students to safely thrive in the classroom.”
Skiatook Superintendent Rik Thomas said, “At this time, we feel it is in the best interest of our students and staff to continue following the procedures and guidelines we have in place. We understand the inconvenience of quarantines and the stress they put on families. However, we are also trying our best to keep our schools as safe as possible to allow us to continue in person learning.”
Thomas stressed the importance of parents and guardians in keeping schools safe. Skiatook Schools still requests that if your child is experiencing any of the symptoms of COVID-19 or if there has been an exposure in your family.
“Just this week we have seen an increase in positive cases and the need to quarantine more students. It does not seem reasonable for us to implement a plan that could potentially create more exposure to the COVID-19 virus for our students and staff. We will continue to monitor the student and staff numbers and when those numbers start improving, we will review our current guidelines. The COVID numbers for our school district are posted each week on our school district’s website, Facebook and Twitter,” Thomas said.