West HS Nurse Stephanie Gramann 120221 01-12022021150725 (copy)

Nurse Stephanie Gramann tracks student quarantines and testing on her laptop at West High School on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021.

Madison Metropolitan School District staff are no longer performing contact tracing for COVID-19 cases, while students and staff who test positive or are close contacts have a shorter isolation or quarantine period.

District officials shared updated COVID-19 health and safety protocols Wednesday evening, aligning practices more closely with the recently updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. The new guidance goes into effect Tuesday, Jan. 18.

Those who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate for at least five days, according to a flow chart with the new guidance. If they are asymptomatic, they are allowed to return to school while wearing a well-fitting mask, though the district also recommends a negative test result before returning.

Those who are symptomatic can end isolation “only if they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and if other symptoms have improved.” They are also supposed to wear a well-fitting mask for five additional days.

The updated guidance says students and school staff exposed to a positive case who have not received a booster shot or are not vaccinated should quarantine for at least five days after the contact. Those who have received a booster or those ages 5-17 who have completed the initial vaccine series do not need to quarantine if they are a close contact.

Previously, those who were not fully vaccinated and considered a close contact to a positive case had to quarantine for 10 days, though they could return earlier with a negative test on day 6 or later after exposure.

The district’s new flow chart recommends getting a test on day five and waiting for results before returning to school if considered a close contact to someone who tested positive.

People may be less likely to find out if they are a close contact, however, as the district brings its contact tracing efforts to an end.

The district has faced staffing shortages amid record numbers of students and staff testing positive during the Omicron variant wave. With skyrocketing cases — the district saw 703 over the past week — staff can no longer keep up on contact tracing duties, according to the district’s announcement.

Instead, health services staff will contact only those who have tested positive and their household members.

Those who may have been exposed to someone who is positive in school will no longer receive email, text, or phone call notification, and the district will not provide school-wide notifications of positive cases.

“In order to stay informed on the number of positive cases in MMSD, we encourage visiting the district’s public case count dashboard, which is updated weekly,” the district recommended. “MMSD data shows there is very low spread of COVID-19 in Madison schools due to rigorous and layered mitigation strategies, and MMSD is one of only a few school districts in Wisconsin who, at any point during the pandemic, provided this high level of contact tracing, far exceeding requirements for schools.”

In the message to families, superintendent Carlton Jenkins and the district’s medical advisers asked families to prepare for ongoing uncertainty as guidance changes and new variants come about.

“By now, we have all grown accustomed to COVID-19’s ability to rapidly and unpredictably evolve,” the message said. “Considering the many unknowns about what lies ahead, we encourage you to develop your own family contingency plan, as you would for snow day closures, in the event a school or classroom is required to briefly close due to COVID-19.”

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