Hawaii changes virus isolation, quarantine times in schools

January 11, 2022 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii public schools are changing their COVID-19 isolation and quarantine rules to allow for shorter periods of time out of class.

In alignment with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state health and education officials announced Tuesday that students, teachers and staff who test positive for COVID-19 will now be required to isolate or quarantine for five days, not 10.

The new rules require those infected with COVID-19 to isolate for five days. They can return to school after that time if they have not had a fever for 24 hours and symptoms have improved.

Close contacts — students who are within 3 feet (about 1 meter) of an infected person for 15 minutes or adults who are within 6 feet (about 2 meters) — must also quarantine for five days if they are not fully vaccinated.

Children between the ages of 5-17 who are vaccinated and considered close contacts do not have to quarantine. Adults who have been fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot also do not have to quarantine. Any close contacts over 18 years old who are eligible for a booster but have not yet received one must quarantine.

Students and staff must get tested on the fifth day of quarantine, even if they have no symptoms.

Dr. Sarah Kemble, the state epidemiologist, said that according to the CDC, omicron may have shorter infectious and incubation periods. “I think that’s part of the feeling that a shortened isolation and quarantine may be justified,” she said.

But there are also “practical realities” that need to be taken into consideration, Kemble said.

“We have to balance trying to get the most infectious time period and the most high risk time to have people in isolation and quarantine while recognizing the incredible disruption ... to have that many kids out of school, not actively engaged in learning, or to have staffing issues,” she said.

About 12% of Hawaii’s teachers were out last week, half of them sick and the other half for vacation or personal time, according to the Hawaii Department of Education.

“The new reduced isolation and quarantine guidance supports our efforts to continue to prioritize in-person learning while upholding safety protocols in our schools,” said interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi.

The teacher shortage has left administrators scrambling to find substitutes. Hayashi said that in some cases students have been forced to gather in cafeterias or auditoriums to be supervised by non-teaching staff.