COVID-19 quarantine rules could soon be changing in Franklin County schools.
After a Tuesday workshop meeting with health department officials, commissioners said they will look at policies recently enacted elsewhere in the region.
“The request that we get over and over again is for us to look at the modified quarantine process that Jefferson County put in place, St. Charles County now and St. Francois (County),” Franklin County Health Department Director Angie Hittson told commissioners. “They’re all a little bit different.”
Hittson said they are looking for clarity to see if changing the quarantine rules, which currently require Franklin County students who are close contacts to sit out 10 days of school, is an option, or if they need to follow state rules.
Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said he recently took part in a conference call with Gov. Mike Parson and other state and local officials. The call included questions about counties changing from state rules.
“The feedback from that entire group was, ‘Well, we’re not going to come after anybody if they want to do what they’ve got to do within their own realm,” Brinker said. “St. Charles County, the next day, ended up interpreting that comment as allowance to change quarantine status.”
Tony Buel, public health supervisor for the health department, said Franklin County is following the least strict official state guidance for school quarantines. That means two kids who have a close contact but are both wearing masks won’t have to quarantine. Students who are vaccinated don’t have to quarantine unless they get sick themselves.
Franklin County schools also are allowed to have the “test out” option, where students who test negative for COVID-19 on the fifth, sixth or seventh days of quarantine can return to class if they are asymptomatic, which many counties don’t allow, Buel said.
The counties that have moved away from the state guidance all have different policies, though each puts more of the monitoring burden on school nurses, instead of health departments, Hittson said.
Brinker said school officials have told him they would welcome the extra responsibility if it means keeping more students in class.
Jefferson County, which changed its rules Sept. 2., allows students to stay in class if they are in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, but all students and teachers in the class must wear masks.
St. Francois County, which changed rules Sept. 20, allows students who had a close contact to remain in school even if neither party was masked, Hittson said. Students have to wear a mask for 14 days after a close contact. Students can observe extracurricular activities but not play sports during quarantine.
St. Charles County, which changed quarantine rules Sept. 30, allows students who are wearing a mask at the time they are exposed to COVID-19 to remain in class, even if the person with COVID was not masked. The exposed person will be monitored for wearing a secured mask for 10 days, Hittson said.
Students exposed to COVID-19 by a person in their household still have to quarantine.
“It’s really not changing things a whole lot, it’s just giving them another option,” she said.
Schools in counties that change quarantine rules will go back to the state guidelines if they have more than 4 percent COVID-19 spread on campus, Hittson said.
Individual school districts can still keep more strict quarantine rules in place.
Franklin County officials will have discussions with counterparts in the counties that have changed quarantine rules and also get guidance from another discussion with state officials planned for Wednesday morning, Brinker said.
Counties that have adjusted quarantine rules have found it to be a “much more amicable solution,” Brinker said.
Brinker said the county commission has been unfairly accused of mandating quarantine rules. “We can unequivocally say we have not been the driving force of any changes or implementation in statute, because we can’t,” he said. “We’re simply going by the interpretation you are bound by as a state health agency.”