Springs School Shifts From 10 to 5-Day Quarantine Despite Pushback - 27 East

Springs School Shifts From 10 to 5-Day Quarantine Despite Pushback

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Springs School Superintendent Debra Winter discusses COVID-19 quarantine options during the January 11 board of education meeting.

Springs School Superintendent Debra Winter discusses COVID-19 quarantine options during the January 11 board of education meeting.

Desirée Keegan on Jan 12, 2022

Springs School administration, Board of Education and community members were not unanimous in the decision, but ultimately the district is deciding to side with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Suffolk County Department of Health Services-approved guidelines that lower the mandatory COVID-19-positive quarantine from 10 days to five.

The decision was discussed at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, January 11.

Superintendent Debra Winter, herself, said she was conflicted, especially after seeing the omicron variant run through her own family. She saw a COVID-positive case on day 10, and another on day 20.

“It’s highly contagious, and guaranteed to run through families — vaccinated or unvaccinated,” she said. “Although most report mild symptoms, especially in children, some staff, especially those who are immunocompromised, have become very sick and needed all 10 days, if not more. We’re confident in our current protocols.”

On Christmas Eve, the New York State Department of Health issued an advisory message saying essential workers who test positive can return to work following five days of isolation if symptoms resolve or if an infected person is asymptomatic. Winter said besides a fever, the CDC says it’s most concerned with a runny nose or disruptive cough. After day five, well-fitting masks like a KN-95 or better must be worn for an additional five days. On December 27, the CDC decided to change its recommendations for quarantining, nationally, to include everyone, not just essential workers. Eventually, the state and county aligned its guidance with the CDC. Those who are vaccinated and boosted, or those ineligible for a booster, do not need to quarantine, but need to take a test on day five, if possible, and must wear a mask.

District offices will have K-N95 masks reserved for those who were previously positive and coming out of isolation or are a designated a close contact.

Dr. Gail Schonfeld of East End Pediatrics said she believes children should be in school, and that the district should continue to do everything it can to keep them there safely. Winter said the absentee rate, which typically averages around 5 percent, is at 25 percent — the worst it’s ever been.

“As the pandemic progresses, we need to bend the curve,” Dr. Shoenfeld said. “We’re not going to stop infection.”

On January 10, Springs School reported 15 new coronavirus cases — in nine students, four teachers and two staff members. From January 4 through January 10, the district announced 50 cases, in 43 students, five teachers and two staff members.

Board member Dave Conlon believes that, for some, the 10 days isn’t necessary. He said especially six, seven days out, if a student or, especially, a staff member, isn’t displaying any symptoms, if indicators improve or if a rapid test comes back negative, he or she should have the opportunity to return to school.

“I think five days makes sense,” he said.

“Most of the staff is vaccinated, so wouldn’t the five days be adequate to help you out as far as staffing shortages?” board Vice President Timothy Frazier asked Winter. “If they don’t have symptoms, they should come back. I’m just trying to think about any issues that may arise over the next two or three weeks.”

School nurse Deb Gherardi believes the school is going to get a lot of grief if it maintains a 10-day isolation period.

“Parents want their kids in school. And the real world is doing five days,” she said. “I know it’s a tough decision, but we’re not going to prevent it or stop it. We have to learn to deal with this the best we can, in the interest of everybody.”

But parent and teacher Monique Sullivan said she was concerned hearing about the switch.

“I think that we’re seeing, even with those asymptomatic, they’re spreading this virus, so to say that we’re going down to five days because you don’t have any symptoms, that to me sounds more dangerous,” she said. “It doesn’t sound like we’re coming from a place of safety. I get the struggle — that it’s hard to find substitutes — but to this point we’ve been able to make it work.”

“I just went through this with my family,” she added, before pointing to board members’ comments about it being easier on parents to not have to keep children home for as long. “It was hard, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Springs School teaching assistant Ashley Dellapolla sided with Sullivan, saying those who are making the decisions aren’t in school with students like she is.

“It’s difficult to keep kids distanced. It’s difficult to get them to keep their masks on,” she said, adding that when students aren’t with their teachers, like during lunchtime, they’re with untrained staff. “I’m very concerned about bringing it from 10 days to five days with those factors in mind.”

One speaker during public comment said her child didn’t show symptoms until day six.

Board member Pat Brabant suggested trying the five days and comparing notes with East Hampton, which is currently maintaining the 10-day quarantine, and switching back to 10 days need-be. But he also said, being that the board members are not doctors, and are making assumptions, that they should follow local, state and national guidelines.

“I will let you know how it goes,” Winter said.

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