Oklahoma’s top epidemiologist said Thursday “we are not pleased with the impact on schools” of current COVID-19 infection rates around the state.
In speaking at the Oklahoma State Board of Education’s monthly meeting, Interim State Epidemiologist Jared Taylor explained that 14-day quarantines for people with suspected contact with an infected individual are critical to reducing community spread of the coronavirus — and that includes young children.
“We absolutely view quarantine as essential in terms of controlling this pandemic,” Taylor said. “As a general rule, the infection does not have a notable impact on children as much so as it does on adults. But there is most assuredly a ghost response situation, and that plays a role in our desires for isolation and quarantine, as well. ...
“It’s critical that we quarantine people because they can be shedding virus even before they start showing symptoms or in the absence in symptoms, and they can certainly contribute to that exposure that will ultimately produce more severe disease even in the children and certainly transmit it within the school and disseminate it into the community, which all of those kids enter into afterward.”
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister presented the findings of a new, informal survey of school districts across the state. It found that 78% now have some mandate for mask wearing, up from 64% a month ago.
The results aren’t particularly detailed because an affirmative response can apply to universal mask mandates down to a requirement for outside visitors, such as parents coming into the school office or mail delivery workers.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health has jurisdiction over all county health departments except the independently operated ones in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties, but Taylor said those two largest health departments have been collaborating with the state and local schools, as well.
Taylor called for consistency in the length of quarantine or isolation for suspected and confirmed cases, respectively, and said health officials will be working with local schools to improve consistency in communicating possible exposure to kids and adults working in schools.
Bottom line, according to Taylor?
Quarantines of 14 days after the most recent exposure for those with suspected contact with an infected individual and 10 days of isolation for positive cases.
But why, when so few children are among the tallies of those hospitalized or dead?
Taylor explained that school buildings are similar to nursing homes in being the perfect breeding ground for heavy doses of viral exposure with many individuals in a confined space.
“If you get a relatively small dose of this virus, then you’re more likely to have less severe disease. If you get an overwhelming exposure to this virus, you’re more likely to have more severe disease,” Taylor said. “Exposure is cumulative and can build up over time. It is one thing to be exposed to one infectious person, it’s another to have exposure to a larger number of persons within a confined area and having more contamination.”
In the next week, Taylor said state health officials are working on rolling out a new means of collaborating with local school districts to get the word out to students’ parents and employees when there are cases of suspected or confirmed exposure to help shore up the state’s current reliance on text messaging.
For districts who choose to participate, health departments would provide an official written notice from health officials, with consistent quarantine guidance, that schools could disseminate to parents or employees.
“Where you start talking about a school outbreak, you have potential for inconsistency in communication,” Taylor said.
COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues
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