Jefferson County Health Department Epidemiologist Samroz Jakvani released interim guidance for county school districts on Wednesday. He said the health department is recommending masks be required of all students at this time.
"When it is deemed appropriate based on the factors referenced in the document, we will notify the schools all that masks can be made optional with lower risk. At this time, we feel based on the rate and speed of increased case activity that it is needed, and that it would be reckless for the local health department to recommend that masks be made optional at this time given our case load and other factors," he said.
The following is the interim guidance for K-12 settings in Jefferson County for the 2021-22 school year.
The following recommendations are interim guidance from Jefferson County Health Department (JCHD) for K-12 schools and school districts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. By implementing this guidance, schools can continue providing students with safe and in-person instruction while protecting our community.
Currently, COVID-19 case rates have increased substantially over several weeks due to the emergence to the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This variant is known to be highly infectious compared to other variants of the virus. An increase in disease severity due to the Delta variant has not been observed at this time, though the increased capacity of the virus has resulted in a higher number of overall new cases. It is crucial that we prevent the spread of COVID-19 to protect those of all ages who remain vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19 and implement the appropriate strategies when they are needed.
In-person learning is critical for the educational and social development of students of all ages. The highest priority is to ensure that schools open and operate in a manner that prioritizes the health and safety of students, teachers, school staff, their families, and the community. Preventing the spread of COVID-19, keeping children healthy, and meeting their educational and social needs are not mutually exclusive goals. Guidance below reflects that of the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S Department of Education (DOE), Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI).
During the prior school year, many approaches to in-person instruction were implemented. JCHD guidance for schools included thresholds developed at a time when COVID-19 vaccination was not available and prior to the emergence of the Delta variant. It is vital to consider that vaccination is currently not available for individuals younger than age 12, though approval for some of these individuals is anticipated later this year. It is also important to consider that SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus that we continue to learn about. At this time, the long-term impact of COVID-19 and to what extent youth may be affected is not well understood, even though most infections do not appear to sustain any substantial impact in the short-term to the infected individual based on prior case data. It is also not well understood how the Delta variant will act different in school settings, though JCHD will closely follow case rates, trajectory, community transmission, outbreaks, vaccination rates, and demographic data related to new cases to assess the ongoing level of risk.
Interim Guidance for K-12 Settings in Jefferson County for the 2021-2022 School Year Jefferson County Health Department
Given what is known about COVID-19 and several other factors, including current vaccination rates, case rates, and health department capacity to fully investigate each case, Jefferson County Health Department is issuing the following interim recommendations to address the spread of COVID-19 in K-12 settings. This guidance will be reviewed over the coming weeks to assess the level of mitigation required, and changes will be communicated expediently to our partners in Jefferson County schools and school districts. Case thresholds for classroom or building closure will also be communicated at that time.
• Implementation of Guidelines for the Prevention, Investigation, and Control of COVID-19 Outbreaks in K-12 Schools in Wisconsin - Updated 08/2021 (DHS)
• Implementation of COVID-19 Infection Control and Mitigation Measures for Wisconsin Schools 2021/2022 – Updated 08/2021 (DPI)
• Implementation of a masking requirement for all students, staff, and visitors in indoor settings. When case rates and other metrics holistically considered decrease to levels considered safe, the Jefferson County Health Department will notify school districts that face masks may be made optional. Factors taken into consideration include case rates, trajectory, community transmission, outbreaks, vaccination rates, and demographic data related to new cases. If masks are made optional and cases are seen to increase across the county or within the school, the Health Department may reinstitute a recommendation to require face masks.
• Implementation of quarantine for all close contacts of positively confirmed cases. While shortened options for quarantines (7- and 10-days with appropriate testing and symptom monitoring) may be utilized to minimize interruptions in learning, 14-day quarantine upon exposure remains the safest option. Vaccinated persons may refrain from quarantine but should wear a mask for 14 days when around others, unless tested negative 3-5 days after exposure.
• On-site testing for symptomatic individuals or outbreak prevention purposes. Wisconsin Department of Health Services has made testing resources available to any school interested in on-site testing to ensure that in-person learning is prioritized with minimal interruption.
• In addition to the mitigation measures included in guidance from CDC and DHS, JCHD strongly recommends vaccination to protect our community from COVID-19.