Exposed to COVID at School? You May Not Need to Quarantine.


The importance of using personal protective equipment remains crucial with updated SHS quarantine guidelines.

Sydney Milller

Students and teachers exposed to COVID-19 received news when health officials announced shorter quarantines. New rules governing the length of quarantine for individuals have been implemented in the Scarsdale School District.   

Emails sent on January 3rd and 12th to the Scarsdale schools community informed parents and students of COVID-19 developments. The first correspondence highlights the shortened quarantine period mandatory after exposure to COVID-19. The second email provides a new definition for proximate contact as well as the situations in which quarantine is necessary for people when exposure has occurred. The January 12th email also indicates adjustments to the contact tracing system. 

On December 2nd 2020, the CDC changed their guidance on the duration of the recommended quarantine after exposure to a COVID-19 case. Instead of 14 days, the CDC reduced the number to 10 days. The shorter isolation period was deemed safe as it still prohibits the spread of COVID-19. In late December New York state adopted the CDC guidance and immediately following, the Scarsdale School District made the change as well.

Additionally, a new definition of “proximate contact” has been introduced for the Scarsdale community. Under the old definition, anyone who shared an enclosed space with an infected individual, a classroom or a vehicle, for more than 10 minutes was determined at risk, regardless of mask use. Under the new definition, only an individual exposed while not wearing a mask has to be quarantined. The definition of “close contact” remains defined as spending more than 10 minutes, six feet or closer to someone with COVID-19 regardless of mask use. If found in close contact with somebody with COVID-19 quarantine is mandatory. “It is important to understand this change of proximate contact is the Westchester county department of health’s decision, not the states,” remarked Eric Rauschenbach, the COVID-19 Coordinator and Safety Officer for the Scarsdale District.

This updated definition of proximate contact applies to school buses as well. If a student or driver tests positive for the virus, the people sitting adjacent to, in front of, or behind that individual must quarantine for 10 days while everyone else, assuming masks were being used, does not need to quarantine. However, it is difficult to confirm seating arrangements on buses. “No additional adults besides the driver are usually inside of the vehicle to oversee the arrangement of students,” stated Rauschenbach. When this is the case as it most often is, Rauschenbach imparts that the whole bus must be sent into quarantine. 

Rauschenbach dives into why these changes were made. He informs that since the beginning of the school year there have been 82 confirmed cases throughout the district. The Westchester Department of Health has yet to discover one student in Scarsdale, or in any other Westchester school, who has contracted COVID-19 under the district’s old definition of proximate contact. From this data, the administration concluded that when students are six feet apart in a classroom, the virus has not been spreading. Interestingly enough, the only spread that has been seen in school at all was between two adults sitting closer than six feet without masks on while eating lunch. 

This change in guidelines has also affected the process of contact tracing. Previously, the tracer would identify the individual who tested positive for COVID-19 and the date of the test or symptoms. Determine who the individual was exposed to in the previous 48 hours. Then through the information system, a module developed by the infinite campus program containing every student and teachers schedule, the tracing can identify who may have been exposed.  Afterwards, a live conversation would find out any additional close or proximate contacts. Lastly, the administration checked with the staff to make sure that their list is correct. Now, though the information system is still used, the premise of contact tracing is an interview with the student, family and teachers who were in the same rooms. Interviews are of greater importance with the new definition of proximate contact because where people were sitting in a classroom helps determine who is quarantined.  

To ease the nerves of any parents or students on the other end of the spectrum regarding the leniency of the new Scarsdale COVID-19 guidelines, Raushenbach answered the administration does not know of any time they have failed to recognize a case. Also, “If we see any increase in school spread, we will move back to the old guidance until we can figure out what is going on,” he promises.

“Everybody in the community shares a responsibility,” concluded Rauschenbach.