Health department says quarantine requirements in schools reduced due to staffing issues, negative impact on student learning

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Department of Health said they are reducing quarantine requirements overall and eliminating them for close contacts without symptoms who are vaccinated in part due to staffing issues and the toll missing school has on student learning.

Under the new guidance, students and teachers who test positive can return to campus five days after the start of symptoms or five days after taking the test as long as they haven’t had a fever for 24 hours and their symptoms have improved.

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For those who are close contacts, the new guidance calls for quarantining for five days from contact if they’re not fully vaccinated or they are over 18 and are not boosted.

Dr. Sarah Kemble, Department of Health Epidemiologist, said the data justifies the change.

“One of the things they’re citing is that it looks like Omicron may have a shorter infectious period and a shorter incubation period,” Kemble explained. “And that’s one of the things that’s been very closely examined. And of course, we’re still looking at new data every day. But I think that’s part of the feeling that a shortened isolation and quarantine may be justified.”

Still more than 1,500 teachers were out for the second week in a row.

“Preliminary numbers are showing teacher absences are starting to decline slightly from last week’s level,” Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi said. “It’s still about 12%. All of our teacher workforce, “

Hayashi said half are sick, the other half are on vacation, family leave or are vacant positions.

All those absences are causing disruptions.

“There has been some instances where students were being supervised in to the cafeteria or the gym, if there is no teacher available for any one of their periods.”

Hayashi said non teacher staff from the complex are covering and students are being instructed to use that time as a study hall or to read silently.

Hawaii teacher’s union president Osa Tui, Jr. said that’s not happening.

“In terms of interim superintendent Hayashi, he continues to be out of touch with the reality in our schools where social distancing is not happening,” Tui explained. “Students are on their phones and not engaging in sustained silent reading, are not getting the education they’re supposed to be going to school for.”

At Sunset Beach Elementary, Principal Eliza Elkington said 175 of its 375 students and 18 of its 60 staff were out the past two days.

“Yesterday, we’re up to eight classes who were in quarantine either partial or total quarantine,” Elkington said. “Today, it would have been up to nine because we had to close another class.”

She said that’s nearly half of the classes in the school.

That prompted her to shift to online classes.

“I had two priorities,” Elkington said. “The first one was the safety of the students and the staff. And then the second one is we felt like we could reach more kids, if we were all virtual. We felt like we could really touch more kids academically if we were all together on the same virtual platform.”

Elkington said she had a contingency plan teachers were aware of and updated it when numbers started to rise.

“We went ahead and had an emergency meeting with our teachers last night and started the plan today.”

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They plan to return to campus Tuesday, but she said they will extend it if needed.

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