The following is a message from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ Bureau of Communicable Diseases, November 2, 2020
Numerous outbreaks of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), have been documented among children and young adults in a variety of settings including camps, child care facilities, and schools throughout the country. These outbreaks have demonstrated that children and young adults can effectively transmit SARS-CoV-2 and pose a risk of secondary transmission to close contacts both inside and outside these settings. Further, they emphasize the importance of early case detection and aggressive control measures in preventing COVID-19 outbreaks in K-12 schools.
In August, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) released Guidelines for the Prevention, Investigation, and Control of COVID-19 Outbreaks in K-12 Schools in Wisconsin. These guidelines were developed to help local and tribal health departments quickly identify and minimize outbreaks among students and school staff.
Part of this guidance includes information on when students and teachers should be excluded from in-person instruction. It is important to note that the exclusion criteria for schools are slightly different than those recommended for the general public. In particular, this guidance includes the recommendation that students or teachers who are symptomatic with COVID-19-like illness, but not tested for SARS-CoV-2, should be excluded from in-person instruction. This recommendation is intentionally aggressive, as it greatly improves our ability to prevent widespread transmission in schools and keep children and teachers who are participating in in-person instruction as safe as possible. This is because rapid isolation and quarantine are still the best tools available to control COVID-19 transmission.
Based on this guidance, providers are encouraged to:
- Be familiar with and follow the exclusion guidance. DHS and CDC continue to recommend quarantining of close contacts, regardless of face covering use. Current evidence suggests that face coverings reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 and they do not eliminate the risk of transmissions. Quarantining of close contacts remains one of the main tools for preventing COVID-19.
- Ask any patients who participate in in-person instruction at a K-12 school and meet the exclusion criteria to contact their school before anyone in their household returns to in-person instruction.
- Provide any requested documentation to patients on their diagnosis.
- Be familiar with and provide resources on community social supports with families if there are concerns about their ability to have their child isolate or quarantine while still maintaining employment.
- Continue testing all individuals with any symptoms of COVID-19, including students, teachers, and staff working in schools. It is important to remember that children may experience milder symptoms than adults, so testing these individuals can rapidly identify cases and contacts and prevent large outbreaks from impacting our schools. Testing can also allow students, teachers, and staff to return to in-person instruction sooner.
Thank you for your collaboration and ongoing commitment to the health of the people of Wisconsin.
Ryan Westergaard, MD, PhD, MPH
Chief Medical Officer and State Epidemiologist for Communicable Diseases
Wisconsin Department of Health Services