Miami-Dade County Public Schools announced Friday that it will ease some of its quarantine protocols related to students and staff who are exposed to someone with COVID-19.
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said that after consulting with a team of medical experts who have been advising the district on its COVID-19 protocols, his administration has decided to lessen the time high school students and staff who are not vaccinated must stay out of school after coming into contact with an infected person.
He said the decision was made because Miami-Dade County continues to see a decline in the number of people becoming seriously ill or dying from the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.
“We are beginning to see significant signs that are quite encouraging. So, we are very optimistic that the current trends of improved conditions within our community will continue and actually will accelerate,” Carvalho said at a press conference at school district headquarters in downtown Miami Friday afternoon.
While the number of new COVID cases have declined since the surge in August from the delta variant, Florida is still contending with a high number of COVID deaths, which lag behind case counts. On Thursday, Florida surpassed 50,000 COVID deaths since the pandemic began, when the state reported 1,554 new deaths on Thursday to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Miami Herald calculations of the data.
COVID quarantine changes in Miami-Dade Schools
Current Miami-Dade school policy states unvaccinated employees and students may return to school after isolating for no less than 10 days. Effective Monday, unvaccinated high school students and adult staff may return to class if they show a negative COVID-19 test that is administered on or after the fifth day since exposure, as long as they are symptom-free.
“What that means, naturally, is that the first day that individuals will be eligible to return probably would be on the seventh or eighth day,” Carvalho said.
The test must be the more accurate PCR test, according to the district, not the rapid test.
Vaccinated students and staff who are asymptomatic do not need to quarantine even if they have come into contact with a person who’s tested positive for COVID, Carvalho said.
Until now, the quarantine policy was uniform for elementary, middle and high school. That is because older students are eligible to get a COVID vaccine, whereas children under 12 are not.
“Obviously, we have students in elementary as well as some in middle school who are not 12 years of age, and therefore do not qualify for the vaccine,” Carvalho said.
The announcement comes as South Florida is finally starting to see the numbers of infections and hospitalizations from the delta variant of COVID-19 come down. According to Miami-Dade County’s online dashboard tracking infections, hospitalizations and deaths, 66 people — 12 vaccinated and 54 unvaccinated — were admitted to area hospitals on Thursday.
That’s down significantly from the average just two weeks ago when the daily numbers were typically well over 100 patients.
While the district used to base its COVID protocols on infection positivity rates, that is no longer applicable, Carvalho said because of the availability of the vaccines and the relatively high number of people in the county who’ve taken at least one dose of the medication.
According to the COVID data reported by Florida to the CDC, about 1,912,648 people, or 70.4% of Miami-Dade County’s total population, are fully vaccinated.
Most of those being tested now, he said, are unvaccinated.
“So, we’re getting a read of a positivity rate that’s not reflective of the viral condition in our community because of the growing number of individuals who are vaccinated,” Carvalho said.
There are no immediate plans to change the district’s requirements that all students and staff wear facial coverings, although Carvalho has asked the medical experts the district consults with for additional guidance on the issue.
When the district announced the mask mandate in late summer, Carvalho said the need for the protocol would be assessed on a weekly basis.
On Friday, he released a list of six metrics that must be achieved before the district would consider lifting the mandate. The list is being reviewed by the team of medical consultants:
▪ Two consecutive weeks of a seven-day average of COVID-19 cases below 100 per 100,000 people. As of Friday, the county was at 333 per 100,000.
▪ At least 80% of eligible school-age children have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 60% are fully vaccinated. The numbers now are 75% and 54% respectively, Carvalho said.
▪ New daily COVID-related hospital admissions remain below 100 for two consecutive weeks.
▪ Less than 15% of local hospital beds are occupied by COVID patients. As of Friday, it was 17%.
▪ The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention county-level forecast of new COVID cases is projecting a decline in cases. That was happening as of Friday.
▪ Districtwide new student quarantines due to COVID-19 exposure in school remains below 1.5% for two consecutive weeks. For the past two weeks, the situation averaged 2% or about 9,633 students.