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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – School districts across North Alabama are changing COVID-19 procedures to “exclude” students from in-person learning if they test positive for or come into close contact with COVID-19.

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance for sending home students who come into close contact with the virus, but schools have the discretion to implement their own protocols.

In 2020 the word was quarantine, in 2021 schools are using the term “exclusion”. The Alabama Department of Public Health says it’s just a matter of wording.

“Persons who have been exposed to a case need to remain at home. Call it what you will,” says Dr. Karen Landers, ADPH Area Health Officer.

North Alabama school districts have told parents and News 19, they don’t have the authority to order quarantines that mandate people stay home and isolate, but can exclude people from coming to campus.

Landers says people shouldn’t get caught up in the wording.

“The message is, if you are a case, please stay at home,” says Dr. Landers.

The confusion stems from each school district issuing similar guidance with slight changes or no guidance on school exclusions at all.

“Its a very frustrating having to go through this again, I understand it. Again, I want kids in the classroom, but I want them there safely and I want them to not wind up being one of my statistics in the hospital or my statistics on ventilators,” says Dr. Landers.

The reasons for school exclusion (for 10 or 14 days depending on school protocol) based on the Alabama Department of Public Health school guidance include:

  • Individuals who test positive for COVID-19
  • Individuals who are symptomatic
  • Individuals identified as “close contacts” with a COVID-19 positive person
    • 10 days out from the start of the symptoms, AND Fever free for 24 hours without fever reducing medication, AND Symptoms have improved

From the ADPH Back to School Toolkit:

“If a student has had a negative COVID-19 test, they can return to school after at least 10 days from the
date the first symptom began once there is no fever without the use of fever-reducing medicines and
they have felt well for 24 hours.

If a student has been diagnosed with COVID-19 but does not have symptoms, they should remain out of
school until 10 days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test, assuming they have not subsequently developed symptoms since their positive test.

A student can return to school, following normal school policies, if they receive confirmation of an
alternative diagnosis from a health care provider that would explain the COVID-19-like symptom(s), once there is no fever without the use of fever-reducing medicines and they have felt well for 24 hours.”

The number of calendar days for school exclusion varies by school district.

“In Alabama we do allow for a 10 day home quarantine. We prefer 14 but we allow for 10 if persons continue to follow mitigation,” says Dr. Landers.

There are exceptions for when a person would be considered a close contact and need to be excluded from school as defined by ADPH in the school setting.

ADPH currently defines a “close contact” as someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person
for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.

Close contacts may be exempted for the following reasons:

  • Both people were engaged in consistent and correct use of well-fitted masks and 3 ft. or farther apart
  • Asymptomatic vaccinated individuals
  • Asymptomatic close contacts who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last three months and successfully recovered from the virus