Stitt, OSDH announce change to school quarantine; Some lawmakers say Stitt is ignoring CDC guidelinesJanuary 12, 2021 | Headlines
OKLAHOMA CITY — Governor Kevin Stitt announced today that Oklahoma schools following safety protocols, including mask-wearing and social distancing, will be permitted to forgo the mandatory two-week quarantine period for potential COVID-19 exposures.
Gov. Stitt and Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye emphasized the new Oklahoma State Department of Health policy is intended to keep students and teachers safe in school while also incentivizing mask usage and other precautions for school districts across the state.
“We need to put our students first, and we need to get them back in class,” said Gov. Stitt. “Refusing to offer in-person school is jeopardizing our kids’ education; it’s jeopardizing teachers’ careers; and it’s jeopardizing the future of the State of Oklahoma. Today, we’re announcing a new policy that will help us keep schools open safely. It will also help encourage and reward mask wearing in schools across the state. Moving forward, schools that enforce the use of masks will not have to quarantine students that were potentially exposed to COVID-19 unless they are showing symptoms.”
As part of the new policy, schools should continue to require quarantines for exposed students in situations where masking and distancing protocols were not followed. Additionally, the updated quarantine guidance does not apply if the exposure occurs during after-school activities, including sports. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 must continue to isolate regardless where they contracted the virus or were wearing a mask.
The State is prioritizing vaccinations for teachers who are 65 and older this week and next and will open vaccinations up to all teachers as soon as vaccine availability allows. The state will also double the amount of rapid antigen tests provided to schools to encourage frequent testing to catch any positive cases early.
“As a physician, I follow the science, and it’s been critical to our COVID-19 response to do so,” said Commissioner Frye. “But it’s also important to look at factors on the ground, and schools have proven to be one of the safest places for most of our students. Other states such as Missouri, Utah and Ohio have put similar quarantine policies into place and haven’t seen large outbreaks occur in schools. This aligns with the trends we’ve seen in our own state, largely thanks to our parents, students, teachers and school administrators who have been doing an outstanding job following precautions and keeping our students safe.”
Frye added, “Data also shows—and the CDC recommends—that getting students safely back to in-person learning is critical for their educational success, mental health and social development. Our public health decisions need to balance all facets of health, and we’re confident this new policy will allow our students to safely thrive in the classroom.”
Members of the Oklahoma House Democratic Education Group released the following statements in response to Stitt’s comments today that seem to ignore CDC guidelines for returning to in-person learning.
“The state data shows kids under 15 were ten percent of all cases in the weeks before the holidays,” said Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Del City. “After the holidays, when kids were out of school, the number dropped by 50 percent. Last week, kids under 15 just accounted for five percent of all cases. The state’s own data doesn’t support the Governor’s reckless plan. It’s time for him to stop blaming the unions for his failure to provide informed leadership.”
“The governor, who recently enacted COVID precautions to close bars after 11 p.m., is now advocating for a large-scale return to in-person school across the state,” said Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa. “The only change instituted was suggesting that if mask mandates were in place, exposed children do not have to quarantine out of school. This didn’t work in Mustang Public Schools – why should we believe it would statewide? Oklahomans should understand that in the governor’s demand for schools to return to in-person learning, he offered no additional guidance or resources for Oklahoma public schools to do so safely.”
“I’m happy to hear the governor agrees that a mask mandate works for school populations,” said Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater. “I encourage him to issue a statewide mask mandate as our schools are part of our communities. Everyone — students, teachers, and staff — deserves a safe working environment.”
“While I applaud the effort of the governor to focus on how to keep students in school,” said Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, “I’m concerned that teachers weren’t contacted about this policy change, and I’m further concerned that Superintendent Hofmeister wasn’t invited to the press conference. While we all agree that in-person learning is the best way for children to learn, this policy doesn’t go far enough to ensure the safety of teachers, students, and staff. I urge the governor to call for a mask mandate, which is proven to be the best way to mitigate the spread of this virus, inside and outside of our schools.”