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Bay County schools reduce COVID quarantine distancing for students against CDC advice
News Herald - 2/24/2021
Feb. 24—PANAMA CITY — Bay District Schools officials approved a memorandum Tuesday to deviate from federal guidelines and change the distance for quarantining students from 6 feet to 3 feet.
The memo comes after BDS Superintendent Bill Husfelt announced over the weekend in the News Herald that he would bring the recommendation to the school board. The policy change means that students who are appropriately wearing their masks and who are at least 3 feet from a COVID-19-positive student in a classroom or on a bus would not have to quarantine — a change against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
The change is effective immediately.
The change comes after many students and parents have approached district officials about the students having to quarantine multiple times this year. BDS Chairman Steve Moss said one student at Arnold High School has been quarantined seven times since school started.
Reducing the distance, school district officials said, hopefully will reduce quarantine numbers.
In the board memo, Husfelt said he admits having some trepidation in not following the CDC guidelines, but feels the CDC as an agency is in difficult political territory. He also added that it's no secret that the CDC doesn't know what is best for Bay County students, given the locally-generated data the school district has amassed.
Some in the community have questioned what makes Husfelt more qualified than the CDC when it comes to its guidelines.
"My response is we are still making them wear face masks, we're still socially distancing at 6 feet, which is the optimum," Husfelt said. "But now we have the data that nobody had last summer, and I think we have to continuously look at what we're doing."
Husfelt added that the school district must look at the damage quarantining has done to the students mentally.
Bay High School ninth-grader Garrison Morris has had to quarantine twice this school year. He said quarantining took a mental toll on him and his friends.
"It's been pretty tough because I'm a very social person and very outgoing," Morris said. "I really hate quarantining because I'm so used to talking to my classmates."
Morris said his grades didn't drop dramatically, but added that he speaks for a lot of his classmates who share the same feelings.
Husfelt repeated that the school district isn't changing its social distance, mask wearing or cleaning policies. The change is meant to reduce the number of times students have to quarantine and is based on data points the school district has, he added.
School district officials said they didn't have much information on the COVID-19 virus last March, but now feel like they understand it better. Husfelt has said for months that transmission isn't occurring in the classroom.
According to Husfelt and BDS Supervisory School Nurse Lyndsey Jackson, there is about a 6% positivity rate within the classroom. Jackson said the number could be closer to 3% to 5% because it's difficult to determine accurately since students also interact with others outside of school.
Husfelt referenced an article from Harvard University that said 3 feet should be the default for students instead of the 6 feet default for adults. He said students haven't been "super spreaders" of the virus.
School district officials shared an email sent from the Emerald Coast Medical Association that supports Husfelt and the school board reducing the distance required to quarantine. The EMCA said domestic violence cases have risen and students diagnosed with clinically significant anxiety is at an all-time high in correlation with increased quarantine rates.
Jackson said that no other school district in Florida to her knowledge has reduced the distance requirement for quarantine to 3 feet, but the states of Ohio and Indiana have passed something similar. Husfelt said he was on a call with two superintendents in Florida who told him they would recommend the same memo if he did.
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