Physicians speak out against Stitt’s new school quarantine guidelines

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Organizations continue to speak out against Gov. Stitt’s new school quarantine guidelines.

Earlier this week, Gov. Kevin Stitt released new guidelines that said students who are exposed to COVID-19 will not have to isolate at home as long as everyone in the classroom was wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

“Some districts refuse to let their parents send their kids to school,” said Stitt on Tuesday.

According to the new policy, those who test positive or have symptoms will still have to quarantine.

Following the announcement, many Oklahoma education officials spoke out against the new guidelines.

“I am not a public health expert nor is the Governor. We must rely on the science,” said State Education Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.

Hofmeister, who was not invited to speak at the press conference, has been a staunch advocate for mask mandates.

“The ramifications of the pandemic on education have been challenging and severe. While this option underscores the need for mask requirements in school, I cannot in good conscience support ignoring quarantine guidelines from the CDC and other infectious disease experts. There is no doubt we all want our students and teachers to be safely in the classroom, but COVID is raging in Oklahoma. In-person instruction is critical, and so is mitigating the spread of the virus. They are not mutually exclusive.”

OKLAHOMA STATE SUPERINTENDENT JOY HOFMEISTER

The Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and other physician groups responded to the state’s new quarantine policy with concern.

Organizers say they strongly advocate for in-person learning for Oklahoma children when safety protocols are in place.

“We all want our kids back in school; however, we must do so safely. While Oklahoma’s schools have not been hotspots for spreading the disease, that is due to the fact that many schools have put mask policies in place and followed CDC guidelines for quarantine and hygiene. The Oklahoma State Medical Association supports leaders like Superintendent Hofmeister and the district officials who have already announced they will stick to fact-based CDC guidelines. We urge other districts to follow suit,” said George Monks, M.D., president of OSMA.

Officials say that Stitt referred to a recent study in Pediatrics as a guide for the state’s updated quarantine recommendations. During the time of the study, test positivity in North Carolina was approximately 6%. Currently in Oklahoma, test positivity is 23%.

Medical professionals caution that these results need to be interpreted in the context of the study conditions and point out that the low transmission rates highlighted resulted from multiple mitigation factors, many of which are not in place in Oklahoma.

“We encourage policymakers to confer with experts in interpreting scientific studies,” Sam Ratermann, M.D., president of the Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians, said. “The health community remains steadfast in our commitment to helping all Oklahomans persevere through this crisis. We must apply science and data appropriately to make decisions on how to keep our communities and children safe.”

The doctors stress that the study was also done when multiple public health measures were implemented.

“What is key, is that there is 99% mask compliance for every person in the mainstream curriculum that steps on school property. It’s the mitigation strategies — distancing, masking, hand hygiene — that are crucially important. If a school district does not do these things, they will likely make the pandemic worse by being open. This is why we don’t advise ‘you should open’ or ‘you should go remote,’ because it’s all about the public health measures,” said Daniel Kelly Benjamin, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the North Carolina study referenced. 

OSDH officials tell us the governor’s new policy is optional. Schools are not required to eliminate quarantines for those who come in contact with COVID-19.

“If we are serious about in-person learning, we must be committed to embracing the same level of mitigation efforts as those highlighted in this study. We encourage schools to adopt strong prevention guidance and confer with county health departments for the safety of teachers and families.,” said Dwight Sublett, M.D., president of the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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