Desperate to Keep Schools Open, NJ May Again Change COVID Rules
Determined to finish the school year with as many school kids on classrooms as possible, the Murphy administration is considering a "test and stay" program.
The initiative would allow kids deemed a close contact to a COVID-infected person in school to remain in class if a rapid test came back negative.
The CDC recently endorsed "test and stay," and encouraged more states to adopt the policy.
New Jersey State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said on Monday that she hopes to have a pilot program in place as early as January. Working with school nurses, Persichilli says, "We have developed a proposal for a pilot. We're looking at that for the restart after the holiday break."
Persichilli did not provide details of how the program would work, but it would likely be modeled after similar programs in California and Georgia.
In Georgia, staff or students that have been COVID exposed can take a rapid-antigen test every morning for seven days. The tests are administered at a drive-through location near the school. Test results are usually available within 30 minutes. If the test is negative, they can proceed to school. Parents who do not want their kids tested, still have the option to quarantine at home.
New Jersey revised school quarantine guidelines last week. A student with a close contact exposure is now permitted to return to school in seven days if they test negative. It is 10 days if they do not get tested. Previous guidelines required a 14-day quarantine with no testing option.
Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday his administration was "inching toward" a "test to stay" policy even before the guidelines were revised.
Thousands of students and staff members have been forced into quarantine as the number of outbreaks in school have risen. Multiple school outbreaks are reported in every county except Burlington.
As of Dec. 15, the state was reporting 294 cumulative outbreaks involving 1,618 students and staff members. However, the number of quarantines is in the thousands, because every person who came in 'close contact' with someone who was infected had to stay home.
Three more districts announced schools that had to be closed and a move back to remote learning this week: Plainfield, South Orange-Maplewood and Hunterdon Central.