Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.
Miami private school: Students who get COVID vaccine have to stay home for 30 days
Miami's Centner Academy is requesting that parents wait until next summer to vaccinate their children against COVID-19 or face a mandatory 30-day quarantine, according to a letter to parents from the school's chief operating officer that was obtained by Miami news station WSVN.
"If you are considering the vaccine for your Centner Academy student(s), we ask that you hold off until the Summer when there will be time for the potential transmission or shedding onto others to decrease," the letter reportedly reads. “Because of the potential impact on other students and our school community, vaccinated students will need to stay at home for 30 days post-vaccination for each dose and booster they receive and may return to school after 30 days as long as the student is healthy and symptom-free."
School officials did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment. The Florida Department of Education sent a letter to the school on Thursday informing it of plans to investigate its attendance policies and threatening to pull funding if those policies don't meet the law.
Centner Academy previously made national news after forbidding teachers who received a COVID-19 vaccine to go near students.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention addresses COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine shedding in the Myths and Facts section of its website. "Vaccine shedding is the term used to describe the release or discharge of any of the vaccine components in or outside of the body," the CDC explains. "Vaccine shedding can only occur when a vaccine contains a weakened version of the virus. None of the vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. contain a live virus. mRNA and viral vector vaccines are the two types of currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines available."
Centner Academy co-founder David Centner said in a statement to CNN that the school's policy was put in place "as a prudent precautionary measure after much thoughtful deliberation."
"Due to voluminous anecdotal reports in circulation on this latter topic, we must err on the side of caution when making decisions that may impact the health of the school community," he continued. "Until there are definitive and scientifically proven studies that refute these reports, we need to do what is best for our students and staff." Centner did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment.
Infectious disease experts aren't impressed. "This is just a ridiculous policy from a school that has had other ridiculous policies," Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. "There is absolutely no scientific or factual basis to exclude vaccinated people for some risk of shedding. This just speaks to the lack of education in this educational institution — it would make me question the quality of the school."
Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University, agrees. "This policy is misguided and not based on science or reality," he says. "Vaccinated people don't shed; it is the ones that are infected with COVID-19 that do. Many research studies have shown that the vaccine reduces the risk of acquiring and getting seriously ill from COVID-19. It is obvious that the administration of that school has some kind of hidden agenda that isn't about keeping kids safe."
Tennessee school plans to install 'anti-COVID entry tunnels'
Tennessee's Warren County High School has received "anti-COVID entry tunnels" from an alum that it plans to install.
“These entry tunnels use new technology that not only provide a temperature scan of everyone entering these facilities, but also relies on a mist of safe, non-toxic stabilized aqueous ozone (SAO), that is 99 percent effective in killing germs and viruses but without the risk of harsh chemicals used in other cleaners,” Warren County Executive Jimmy Haley said in a press release shared with Yahoo Life. “This is just the next step in our efforts to ensure the safety of our students, teachers and staff at Warren County High.” An anti-COVID entry tunnel will also be installed at the local county jail.
The tunnels are a gift from Roger Biles, a Warren County High School graduate who is now the CEO and managing partner of InterMed Resources, which manufactures this equipment, director of Warren County Schools Grant Swallows tells Yahoo Life. Biles, he says, "wanted to give back to his community."
The high school plans to install the tunnel in the athletics weight room facility by the beginning of November. "It will be made available, not required, to any student or employee that is in need of a temperature check and the need to kill germs," Swallows says.
Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life that this tunnel is "absolutely not" likely to tamp down on the spread of COVID-19. "Temperature checks have been pretty much shown to be futile — they almost never pick up anything," he says. The tunnel will also reportedly have a handwashing station that Russo says "may have a little benefit," but he's wary of the decontamination spray. "I would not want my child to be sprayed with some substance that supposedly prevents a virus," he says.
Given that COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets that are passed on when an infected person breathes, coughs, sneezes or talks, per the CDC, Adalja says these tunnels are "unlikely to have any impact on COVID-19 risk."
CDC considering 'test-to-stay' policies over mandatory quarantines
The CDC is considering recommending COVID-19 "test-to-stay" programs in schools instead of quarantines when students and staff are exposed to the virus.
Test-to-stay is a policy that allows children who have been exposed to a positive COVID-19 case to continue to go to in-person classes as long as they test negative for the virus and have no symptoms, the CDC says online. "While implementation of COVID-19 prevention strategies may vary, universal masking, contact tracing, and testing are integral to minimize risk of transmission," it says in an FAQ page for school administrators that was updated on Monday.
"CDC views test to stay as a promising practice," the agency explains, noting that it is "working with multiple jurisdictions implementing test to stay to evaluate the effectiveness of this strategy." Those jurisdictions include Marietta City Schools in Georgia, schools in Lake County, Ill., and schools in Fayette County, Ky., according to CNN.
There is some research to suggest this may be an effective strategy to keep kids safe and in school. A study from the Utah Department of Health that was published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in May found that testing let 95 percent of more than 11,000 high school extracurricular competitions continue and saved an estimated 109,752 in-person instruction days for students.
A study of students in England, published in The Lancet in early October, found that there were similar rates of symptomatic COVID-19 infections in students and staff who did standard quarantines compared with those who did test-to-stay programs. "Daily contact testing should be considered for implementation as a safe alternative to home isolation following school-based exposures," the researchers concluded.
Experts say this is a policy that's worth exploring more. "This is a safe practice, and actually one that all schools should be embracing to minimize the disruptions to in-person schooling," Adalja says. Russo calls test-to-stay an "interesting strategy" but notes that the lack of availability of COVID-19 rapid tests in the U.S. can make this a difficult one for schools to pull off. "If you can do this, it's a great strategy because it keeps kids in school," he says.
Parents hosted homecoming dances for kids after their Oregon school canceled them
Officials at Oregon City High School canceled its homecoming dance due to COVID-19 concerns — so families created two separate privately organized dances instead.
The homecoming dance, which was scheduled for Oct. 16, was canceled over concerns that everyone who attended would need to quarantine afterward if one person tested positive, The Oregonian reported. Instead, the school held a slew of homecoming-themed events, including a special hallway decorating, spirit week and homecoming parade, but no dance.
Prior to the event, Clackamas County Public Health spokeswoman Kimberly Dinwiddie told Portland news station KOIN that "we are not encouraging large gatherings."
"As of last week, we are managing 33 COVID-19 school-related outbreaks in the county. Events such as these do not keep our kids out of quarantine or from COVID-19," she said. "While it is not encouraged, we do realize people will gather and we hope they follow safety guidelines when doing so."
Tickets for the parent-organized event — which took place at a Portland event venue from 3 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m. on Oct. 16 — were shared on Eventbrite. According to the posting, the later dance sold out on Oct. 4. Masks were required and temperature checks would be done at the door.
"The dance went great," homecoming dance organizer Phil Heppner, whose daughter is a high school freshman and whose niece is a high school senior, tells Yahoo Life. "I decided to put the dance on after word came out that the school had canceled. This is after most of the young ladies had already bought their dresses. The Oregon City High School has taken away so many memories from our youth in the past year and a half that it's time to let our children be children as long as we can follow the CDC guidelines."
A spokesperson for the Oregon City School District did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment.
It's unclear if the event led to an increase in COVID-19 cases — the school district offers only a weekly summary of cases online and has been updated only through last week. As of last week, 18 students in the district had tested positive for COVID-19 and 109 were in quarantine, the data shows.
Experts are mixed on the dance. The ability to do a dance safely "all depends upon people's risk tolerance, the level of vaccination, the setting of the event and the community prevalence of COVID-19," Adalja says. But, he adds, "with certain basic mitigation measures, many of these events can be done safely." However, Watkins says that gathering large groups of people together indoors is "not a good idea" right now. "Everyone has pandemic fatigue at this point, but the virus is still present and dangerous," he adds.
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