Students and staff exposed to COVID should not isolate if they don’t have symptoms, according to guidelines Massachusetts education leaders issued on Monday for the upcoming school year.
The guidance is similar to what the state released at the end of the 2021-22 school year, and aligns with new isolation and testing guidance the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued last week.
“No asymptomatic person should be excluded from school as a result of exposure, regardless of vaccination status or exposure setting,” Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley and Department of Public Health Commissioner Margaret Cooke wrote in a joint memo to school superintendents.
Those who are able mask should do so until Day 10 of exposure and are recommended to test on Day 6, according to a list of guidelines the state published on its website Monday for children and staff in child care, K-12, out-of-school time, and recreational camp settings.
The memo also said DESE and DPH are not recommending universal masking, surveillance testing of asymptomatic individuals, contact tracing, or test-to-stay testing in schools. The statewide masking mandate was lifted in February.
“As always, any individual who wishes to continue to mask, including those who face higher risk from COVID-19, should be supported in that choice,” Riley and Cooke wrote.
The state previously announced it was ending its test-to-stay program, launched last year aimed at keeping young children and staff in classrooms instead of quarantining at home. Any schools wishing to implement a testing program must secure the supplies, staff, and software needed.
Starting this summer and going forward, Riley and Cooke wrote in Monday’s memo that only positive tests conducted at school sites by school staff must be reported to the Department of Health, which will then publish the data. Positive case counts will no longer be collected through DESE’s security portal, the memo said. The state prefers rapid antigen tests, such as at-home self tests, to PCR tests in most situations.
Some masking and isolation rules still apply depending on whether staff and students test positive.
Those who test positive must isolate for at least five days, according to the state’s guidance. They may return to class after Day 5 if they are asymptomatic or if their symptoms are resolving and they have been fever-free without the use of medicine for 24 hours.
Once they return, they must wear a high-quality mask through Day 10. If they test negative on or after Day 5, however, they do not need to mask.
If someone is unable to wear a mask, they may return to school on Day 5 or later with a negative test.
Anyone who has mild symptoms can stay in school if they test immediately onsite and that test is negative. They should wear a mask if possible, and should test again within 48 hours, according to DPH.
If symptomatic individuals can’t test immediately, they should be sent home and allowed to return if the symptoms remain mild and they test negative, or if their symptoms are resolving and they have been fever-free without medication for 24 hours. They may also return if a medical professional diagnoses them with something other than COVID-19.
“A negative test is strongly recommended for return,” the state guidance said.
The state also continued to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations, including booster doses, as well as the flu shot.