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Masks must now be worn in the event of COVID exposure, but isolation is over. Photo: AL DÍA Archives.
Masks must now be worn in the event of COVID exposure, but isolation is over. Photo: AL DÍA Archives.

Philly School District eliminates quarantine after COVID exposure

Those exposed can still go into school without symptoms, but must wear a mask.

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On Friday, May 13, the Philadelphia School District updated its protocols for students and staff regarding exposure to COVID-19.

Rather than quarantining for 10 days, staff and students can be present in school buildings, as long as they wear masks. But if they do experience symptoms, they must isolate and get tested before returning to school.

“Requiring students who have been exposed to COVID-19 but are not exhibiting any symptoms to quarantine at home has the unintended consequence of reducing in-school learning,” Superintendent William Hite informed parents and guardians in a letter on Friday.  

Under the new policy, people who have been exposed to the virus but are asymptomatic must wear a mask for 10 days after their last known exposure, regardless of their vaccination status.

This “mask-to-stay” option arrives as the school year is almost over, and as COVID-19 infections in Philly are rising. On Monday, May 16, the city said it’s seeing an average of 261 new cases each day, which is a “less than 50% [increase] in the previous 10 days.”

According to the city’s data, as of May 11, there were 112 cases that required hospitalization.

District officials said that the “in-school alternative to quarantining” is intended to support in-person learning and reduce the pressure of classroom coverage.

The district has been facing a shortage of substitute teachers, and some schools have struggled to have enough staff to open safely.

The new guidance states that schools experiencing “active clusters” of cases across grade levels or cohorts can make the decision to enforce mask wearing.

Masterman High School, a magnet school with students from grades 5-12 is currently experiencing an active cluster and is requiring all staff and students to wear masks during school hours. 

Principal Jeannine Payne told Chalkbeat that she decided to implement mandatory masking based on recommendations from the city health department and the district's Office of Student Health Services.

Payne said that students are making up most of the recent COVID-19 cases. Masterman will be requiring everyone to mask until May 23.

Robin Cooper, president of the Commonwealth Association of School Principals, told Chalkbeat that while she has no issues with the new guidelines, she wishes that the district first consulted with its union leadership before making a final decision.

“There was no discussion. Schools have had to shut down multiple grades, the virus is so widespread,” Cooper said.

Fortunately right now there are no Philadelphia public schools that are closed due to COVID-19 infections.

In a statement, district officials said they will continue working with the health department to keep a close watch on case counts and take any action necessary to “protect the health and well-being of everyone in our schools.”

The school district maintains a dashboard of COVID-19 cases which tracks tests and positive results. According to the database, nearly 11%, or 15,000 of 138,000 tests administered to students and staff, have been positive throughout the school year.

“Everybody just wants to get to the point where we can say things are normal again. Then things like this pop up. This is not normal,” Payne said.

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