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Updated COVID-19 guidelines for Washington state K-12 schools, child care facilities

The Washington State Department of Health released updated guidelines for schools and families, including those around isolation periods and responses.

WASHINGTON — With the back-to-school season around the corner, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has released updated guidance for how schools and child care facilities handle COVID.

The guidance, which applies to kindergarten through 12th grade as well as child care, includes four main points:

  • When someone tests positive: Students and employees who test positive for COVID-19 are required to isolate for five days, regardless of vaccination status. They may return after the five-day isolation period if they don’t have symptoms and have had no fever for the previous 24 hours. Those who test positive after the five-day isolation period must extend their isolation another five days. Those with symptoms are also required to stay at home.

  • When someone returns from isolation: After returning from the five-day isolation, both students and staff should wear a “well-fitted” mask for five more days. DOH also encourages students and staff to test again before returning.

  • What notifications are required: Schools and childcare facilities are required to notify students, staff, and families of cases and of an outbreak. These notifications can be made through newsletters, dashboards, or group messages, for example. Schools are encouraged to include details such as the number of cases and locations where students may have been exposed.

  • Reporting to public health officials: They are still required to report outbreaks to local health authorities and to have a response system in place. An outbreak is described as three or more cases within a group or at least 10% of students and staff testing positive within a group. 

Masking is not mandatory as of the publication of this article, but it is recommended by the CDC, especially when community transmission is high. The DOH recommends masking when a school or facility is experiencing an outbreak of cases among a core group. 

Vaccines are still the best protection against COVID-19, the DOH said, as they prevent hospitalization and severe diseases. The COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for children 6 months and older, and boosters are available for children 5 years and up. 

RELATED: Read the full COVID guidelines for schools, child care facilities

According to DOH, the guidelines were made with the lessons learned from the past two years.

“We are entering a new stage of coexisting with COVID-19 in our communities, knowing that COVID-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future,” said Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH. “DOH also recognizes the importance of being able to maintain in-person learning for children, and the fundamental links between education and long-term health outcomes.”

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