Colorado’s health department rolled back its COVID-19 mitigation strategies for schools on Friday, saying that students exposed to the coronavirus at school no longer have to quarantine and that districts can cease contact tracing unless there’s an outbreak.
The new guidance, which the health agency suggests school districts implement on Feb. 28, comes as metro Denver counties are lifting mask mandates for schools following a drop in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
“This approach will help schools, parents, and teachers continue in-person learning with fewer disruptions, but schools should consider transitioning to this option cautiously, as moving too soon could result in an increase in transmission,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist, in a statement.
School districts also have the option to end quarantines for students and employees exposed to the virus in the community, such as the grocery store or gatherings. But those exposed at home, which is considered a higher risk, still have to quarantine, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment.
Previously, the state recommended schools allow students and staff to avoid quarantining under certain scenarios — such as if they were wearing masks — when they were exposed in the classroom. The updated guidance sets no such criteria, although the health department recommends the new model be implemented when there is less transmission of the virus in the local community.
Without contact tracing or case investigations it may be harder for public health officials to identify outbreaks of COVID-19 without regular case investigation and contact tracing, the agency said.
The state health department still encourages all staff and students to wear masks in schools – a recommendation that is in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and that people who are sick or test positive for COVID-19 should isolate themselves from others, according to the agency.
Anyone who is eligible is encouraged to get vaccinated against the virus, the health department said.
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are declining statewide, however, transmission remains high with an average of 2,300 cases reported each day over the past week, according to health officials.
On Friday, 773 people were hospitalized with confirmed COVID, according to the health department.
Earlier in the week, Denver Public Schools announced it will no longer require masks in its buildings starting Feb. 28.
And Jefferson County’s Board of Health voted Thursday to lift its face-covering requirement for indoor, public places at 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 11, a week before it originally planned.