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Health Department study in Kent County could lead to social distancing changes in schools

"If we can only quarantine those that clearly need to be quarantined, and keep the rest of the children in their classroom, that's a public health win."

KENT COUNTY, Mich. — The Kent County Health Department is in the middle of a study that officials hope will reduce the social distance requirements in all pre-k through 8th grade classrooms.

During the six-week pilot study, any student that has been within three feet of a COVID-positive student for 15 minutes or more — within 48 hours — must quarantine at home for 10 days. Before that, quarantine was triggered at a distance of six feet.

"While we want to continue to quarantine when necessary, we don't want to over-quarantine. And, if there is no significant public health benefit in quarantining children, then we don't want to do it," says Joann Hoganson, Kent County Health Department's director of community wellness. "We know that quarantining children and making them miss 10 days of schools is extremely disruptive to the family, and has a really detrimental impact on children's' education, and can even have a negative impact on their emotional health."

Hoganson hopes the study will lead to a dramatic reduction in the number of school children that need to be quarantined.

"We're going to evaluate the data and determine if we see an increase in the spread of infection among elementary and middle school students, then we'll go back to the six feet. But if we don't see that this has negatively impacted those students, or the safety of the school, then we will consider making that the new guideline from Kent County," she said.

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Hoganson says many schools in Kent County have struggled to maintain the current social distancing requirement. A change in policy would ease some of their challenges as well.

"The schools have always attempted to keep kids six feet apart, and they continue to. We realize that that's ideal. That is the gold standard. But, for many schools, their buildings just cannot accommodate it. They don't have that much space. So, while it's not the ideal, if we can say that three feet meets the minimum requirement, that's where we're doing, because the value of keeping kids in the school, in their seats and in the class is so great," she said. 

"It's a very forward looking policy. It's trying to maintain the safety and maintain those mitigation factors that we know work. They still need to wear masks. They still need to wash their hands. They still need to do a daily screener, but more children can be in the classroom."

KCHD is currently three weeks into the six-week study.

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