To Quarantine or Not to Quarantine? Divergent Approaches in South Orange and West-Windsor

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Last week South Orange-Maplewood Public School District made news by announcing that all students travelling beyond the tri-state area during the Thanksgiving break would have to quarantine for ten days. Then there’s West Windsor-Plainsboro, a wealthy white/Asian Mercer County district, which has taken an opposite approach. In a letter to the community, Superintendent David Aderhold explains that the district’s previous policy of requiring 14 days of quarantine after travel resulted in “not one COVID positive case… Further, in reviewing the data from the entire 2021-22 school year, not one student who has been quarantined for travel has then become COVID positive.”

Hence, no quarantines are required after travel.

Sure, this is New Jersey, addicted to home rule and allergic to statewide directives that appear to overrule local leaders. But wouldn’t it make more sense for the State Department of Education, in collaboration with the Department of Health, to take the onus off of districts for making these fraught decisions and issue regulations, perhaps dependent on county COVID rates? Shouldn’t these hard calls be based on data (as in Robbinsville’s case) rather than local politics or teacher union dominance? Just asking.

Here’s the West Windsor-Plainsboro letter in full:

Dear WW-P Community,

As you are aware, the District has upheld a series of quarantine guidelines for unvaccinated students. Currently, the reasons that the District quarantines a student are as follows:

  • Students who identify symptoms on the COVID Health Screening form
  • Unvaccinated students who have been in close contact of a COVID-19 positive individual
  • Unvaccinated students who have a household member who is exhibiting COVID symptoms
  • Unvaccinated students who have traveled outside of NY, NJ, PA, and DE
  • Students who have traveled internationally

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires unvaccinated close contacts to quarantine, the travel quarantine is not a requirement but a recommendation. The District has previously upheld this recommendation for unvaccinated travelers to quarantine for 14 days after travel outside of the continuous states to New Jersey.  In reviewing our District data, it is clear that not one COVID positive case has been reported resulting from travel. Further, in reviewing the data from the entire 2021-22 school year, not one student who has been quarantined for travel has then become COVID positive.  

To that end, upon review of this data as well as consultation with the local health department, District physician, and discussion with neighboring school districts that do not require a travel quarantine, WW-P will eliminate the quarantine requirement resulting from travel effective upon our return from Thanksgiving Recess, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. Any student who is currently on travel quarantine may return to school Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. This change is only effective for a quarantine based on travel. All other quarantine rules (e.g., close contact, identified with symptoms, etc.) will remain in effect. Effective Nov. 29, should a family choose to quarantine following travel, virtual instruction will not be provided.

What is quite evident in our numbers and the contact tracing that has occurred is that gatherings increase the risk and spread of COVID, not the location in which the gathering occurs. In particular, unvaccinated individuals are particularly at risk of contracting COVID.

Please continue to follow the below mitigation strategies to protect yourself and your loved ones. With the rise in COVID cases accompanied by this week’s Thanksgiving holiday, it is important to continue to take steps to lessen the risk of infection to you, your family, and your friends as we prepare for the holiday season. Some guidelines to keep in mind for upcoming gatherings:

  • Get vaccinated (or get the booster if eligible). The vaccine is now available for all individuals ages five and above. Many vaccinated adults are also eligible for a booster. To find an appointment nearby, please visit the State site at https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/finder
  • Individuals who are not fully vaccinated should wear a mask in indoor public places. On school grounds masks are mandatory indoors.
  • Individuals who are immunocompromised should follow the precautions recommended for unvaccinated individuals.
  • To maximize protection, vaccinated individuals should wear a mask indoors in public if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
  • If an individual is sick or has COVID-19 symptoms, the individual should stay home. They should also get tested for COVID-19.
  • Outdoor celebrations and activities remain safer than indoor events.

Wishing our school community a joyous, healthy, and happy Thanksgiving.

Sincerely,

David Aderhold, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools

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