Anchorage School District ditches quarantine requirement for asymptomatic close contacts

Anchorage School District (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage School District has changed its quarantine requirements for students who are close contacts of COVID-19 cases and not showing symptoms of the virus.

Before this week, if a student was deemed a close contact and not wearing a mask, they would need to quarantine. They were sent home for 10 days and could return to school if the student had no symptoms after the quarantine.

But ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop said the district found problems with that approach.

“What we were finding is that, through our own data of the first four weeks, we were asking a lot of healthy students to stay out of school and not have access to their education,” Bishop said.   

Bishop said the district found that very few cases in schools could be attributed to close contacts, and the mandatory quarantine was putting a burden on families to stay home with their kids. 

The district’s new policy gets rid of the automatic 10-day quarantine.

Now, parents are still notified when their child is a close contact of a positive case in school. But if their child isn’t showing symptoms, quarantine is no longer a requirement — regardless of vaccination status. Instead, parents can decide whether they want their child to remain in class, quarantine or get a COVID-19 test.

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Bishop said the district plans to continue requiring face masks for everyone in school buildings. Also, she said, officials are encouraging safe social distancing practices.

“Things aren’t going to be perfect, just like around our community and in parks and if you go to stores,” Bishop said. “But we’re doing the best we can of what we can control and influence while keeping healthy kids in school. If you’re asymptomatic and still positive you have to stay home. And if you have symptoms, you stay home.”  

As the highly-contagious delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread across Alaska, more schools are moving toward requiring masking for students.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough began requiring masks this week. Also, more than half of schools in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District now require masks, and students and staff have to mask up at more than a third of schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, but neither district has a universal mask mandate. 

Though Bishop and other ASD officials have received some negative feedback regarding the district’s mask policies, she said the policy is making students’ learning environments closer to what they were before the pandemic.

“We want kids to have more regular experiences in a safe manner, and by masking, we’re getting that done,” Bishop said. 

Bishop continues to ask parents to help the district by monitoring their children’s symptoms at home, before they get to school. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, ASD had 372 active COVID-19 cases in the district.

This story has been updated to more accurately describe the previous quarantine policy.

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Wesley is a reporter for Alaska Public Media, covering primarily city government and Anchorage life. He previously worked at Alaska Public Media as a web editor, producer and education reporter before a two-year stint in Kotzebue, AK as News Director for KOTZ-AM.

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