Florida Says Many Students Don’t Need To Quarantine After Exposure To COVID-19 Cases

Florida’s new surgeon general on Wednesday signed new rules allowing parents to send their children to school rather than quarantine if they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and remain asymptomatic.

Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo was sworn in Tuesday by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) as the state continues to battle a surge in coronavirus cases linked to the highly transmissible delta variant. Ladapo, like the governor, has been critical of many measures meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including lockdowns and mask-wearing.

The new rules signed Wednesday allow students to continue going to class on-campus “without restrictions” as long as they are asymptomatic. Ladapo’s provisions do give students the option to quarantine if parents choose, but for no longer than seven days.

(A previous rule required students to quarantine at home for at least four days after exposure to someone with the coronavirus.)

The measures are at odds with the recommendations released by federal health officials and have already drawn criticism from education groups in Florida. It’s unclear if all school districts in the state will follow the mandates, and the Miami Herald reported Wednesday that some planned to adhere to stricter COVID-19 protocols.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has long urged those who are exposed to COVID-19 to get tested even if they show no symptoms. Those infected with the virus can spread the disease even if they are asymptomatic, and the CDC currently recommends students who are exposed to a positive case quarantine for 14 days if they are unvaccinated. Students that are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine, the CDC says, but should be tested.

Children under 12 are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination, but Pfizer said this week its vaccine was shown to be safe and highly effective in children aged 5 to 11 in clinical trials.

DeSantis told media outlets Wednesday: “I trust parents and families, and I don’t think they are going to go around lying.”

“In-person education is important for a students’ wellbeing, their educational advancement, and their social development,” the governor said in a statement. “The idea that schools are somehow a big problem when it comes to spread of the virus has been refuted yet again. Not only is the forced quarantining of healthy children disruptive to a student’s education, but many folks in Florida are not able to work from home.”

Ladapo echoed DeSantis, saying the decision would allow the state to do “what is right for parents and for students.

“There’s not a single high-quality study that shows that any child has ever benefited from forced quarantining policies, but we have seen demonstrable and considerable harm to children,” he said in a statement. “It’s important to respect the rights of parents.”

In fact, the delta strain has upended reopening plans, and children have been infected with the virus and hospitalized at much higher rates during this wave of the pandemic. The return to school this fall, when many kids are yet to be vaccinated, has troubled public health officials, who have urged schools to adopt social distancing measures and encouraged all students to wear masks indoors.

Students that do test positive for COVID-19 in Florida will still be required to abide by health measures that include a mandatory quarantine of 10 days, a negative test and the subsidence of symptoms, or a doctor’s note granting permission to return to class.

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