New Jersey students who test positive for COVID-19 or are exposed to someone who is infected with the virus will be able to return to the classroom faster under new guidelines that cut the required quarantine period down to five days.
The new guidelines, which align with those of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, say students who test positive or have symptoms of the virus should stay home for at least five full days, with the day of the test or of the onset of symptoms counting as day zero.
On day six, if they have no symptoms or their symptoms are improving, students can return to class but should wear a mask for another five days and limit extracurricular activities only to those which allow masks to be worn “consistently and correctly.”
“We know that students benefit from in-person learning, and safely continuing in-person instruction remains a priority,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said in a written statement. “These recommendations will help local health departments and schools in handling COVID-19 cases and exposures among students and staff to ensure healthy outcomes for all.”
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The state also recommends people exposed to infected individuals, but who are themselves not sick or testing positive, quarantine for five full days and continue to wear masks for another five. However, adults and children 5-17 years old who have been exposed to an infected person do not need to quarantine if they have been vaccinated and show no symptoms.
The new guidelines follow the changing guidelines of the CDC, which in December halved its previous 10-day quarantine recommendation despite infections skyrocketing around the country, driven largely by the more transmissible omicron variant. The agency has justified its decision by pointing to data that suggests coronavirus is at its most transmissible during the early part of an infection.
“These updated recommendations also facilitate individual social and well-being needs, return to work, and maintenance of critical infrastructure,” the CDC posted to its website.
Nonetheless, outside medical experts have criticized the CDC’s new guidelines, especially because they allow people to leave quarantine after five days without getting tested to see if they are still infectious.
More than 62,500,000 people in the U.S. were infected with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, according to CDC data. The country has averaged more than 400,000 new cases a day since Jan. 1 and more than 840,000 people have died since the start of the pandemic.
Health experts say the best protection against the virus continues to be vaccination.