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Proof of Negative COVID Test a Back-to-School Essential in DC

December 29, 2021 by Dan McCue
Proof of Negative COVID Test a Back-to-School Essential in DC
Vice President Kamala Harris pays a pre-holiday visit to DC public school students. (Photo via Twitter)

WASHINGTON — All students and staff planning to return to the District of Columbia’s public schools after their holiday break must first provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, Mayor Muriel Bowser and schools chancellor Lewis Ferebee announced Wednesday.

School is set to resume in the city on Wednesday, Jan. 5.

But before they send a loved one off to school, the school district’s families must upload their child’s negative test results to dcps.dc.gov/safereturn by 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 4. 

To minimize disruptions, Bowser and Ferebee advised parents to:

Pick up an iHealth rapid antigen test from a DCPS school or a Test Yourself Express pickup site. Tests will be available at every DCPS school on Monday, Jan. 3 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Tuesday, Jan. 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Families can pick up a test at any DCPS school. 

Test your child on Tuesday, Jan. 4. Tests administered before Jan. 4 will not be accepted. Then upload results by 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 4. 

Families may choose to utilize their own antigen or PCR test results, but tests administered before Tuesday, Jan. 4 will not be accepted, the mayor said.

If a student tests negative, families should continue to monitor their child for any symptoms of COVID-19.

If their child is showing any symptoms or if they are required to quarantine because they are unvaccinated and have been identified as a close contact to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19, families should keep the student at home, regardless of their test result, the mayor said.

If a student tests positive, families should reach out to their school’s main office so that their child’s absence can be noted accordingly. Then, families should follow all isolation guidance from DC Health and their child’s health care provider.

“The health and safety of our community remain paramount as we prepare to welcome students and staff back to our schools,” Ferebee said in a written statement.

“As we have throughout the COVID-19 health crisis, DCPS will continue to follow the guidance of public health authorities and utilize all resources available to maintain in-person learning opportunities for our students,” he said.

The District’s public schools system previously adjusted the school calendar, classifying Monday, Jan. 3 and Tuesday, Jan. 4 as non-instructional days for students to allow families and staff to pick up tests. 

DCPS staff will take a COVID-19 test and upload their test results on Monday, Jan. 3. If staffing availability requires that a school transition to virtual learning on Wednesday, Jan. 5, families will be notified on Tuesday, Jan. 4. 

In regard to virtual learning, Bowser and Ferebee said they expect schools and classrooms will need to transition to virtual learning from time to time throughout the semester, especially in the coming weeks. 

In the event a school needs to transition to situational virtual learning, schools will pivot for up to 10 calendar days, they said. Decisions about specific classrooms and grade levels within a school will be made on a case-by-case basis. Each day, staff and student availability will be reviewed by 4:00 p.m. and school posture decisions will be made by 8:00 p.m. 

During a White House briefing Wednesday morning, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the current seven-day daily average of cases is about 240,400 cases per day nationwide, an increase of about 60% over the previous week.

“The rapid increase in cases we are seeing across the country is in large part a reflection of the exceptionally transmissible omicron variant. In a few short weeks, omicron has rapidly increased across the country and, we expect, will continue to circulate in the coming weeks,” Walensky said. “While our cases have substantially increased from last week, hospitalizations and deaths remain comparatively low right now.”

According to the CDC, the seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 9,000 per day, an increase of about 14% over the previous week. 

“This could be due to the fact that hospitalizations tend to lag behind cases by about two weeks, but may also be due to early indications that we’ve seen from other countries like South Africa and the United Kingdom of milder disease from omicron, especially among the vaccinated and the boosted,” Walensky said

The seven-day average of daily deaths now stands at about 1,100 per day, which is a decrease of about 7% over the previous week, she added.

Walensky then walked reporters through a number of new recommendations issued this week:

  • First, isolation refers to what you should do when you have COVID-19, most likely diagnosed by a positive test. Isolation prevents those who are known to be infected from transmitting the virus to others;
  • Quarantine, on the other hand, is different. This is what you do when you when you’ve been exposed to someone who has disease and are unsure if you, yourself, were infected;
  • Quarantine prevents further spread of the virus in the time before someone may develop symptoms or from those who are asymptomatic from their infection;
  • If you are infected with SARS-CoV-2, regardless of your vaccination status, you should isolate for five days; 
  • During periods of isolation, it’s best for you to wear a mask around those in your household to avoid spreading the virus at home;
  • After five days, if you’re asymptomatic or if your symptoms have largely resolved, you may leave isolation, as long as you continue to wear a mask around others, even in the home, for an additional five days.

For those who have been exposed to COVID-19, quarantine recommendations are based on your vaccination status, Walensky said.

  • If you are boosted or have been vaccinated with your Pfizer or Moderna series in the past six months or your J&J shot in the past two months, no quarantine is needed. However, a mask must be worn for 10 days following your known exposure, and the CDC also recommends getting a test on day five after your exposure;
  • If you’re not vaccinated or you were vaccinated with your Pfizer or Moderna series over six months ago or with J&J over two months ago and have not yet received your booster, you should quarantine for five days following your last exposure. After five days, you should continue masking around others for an additional five days and you should also get a test at day five.
  • If it’s not possible for you to quarantine, it is important that you do the right thing and wear a mask at all times around others for 10 days after your exposure. You should get a test on day five.

“And if at any point you develop symptoms of COVID-19 during your quarantine period, or your 10 days after exposure, like fevers, runny nose, a cough, headaches, or body aches, you should get a test and isolate until your test results return. And, of course, then isolate if your test returns positive,” she said. 

Walensky also emphasized the critical importance of masking, which decreases the risk of transmission. 

“As we continue to fight COVID-19, prevention is truly our best option,” she said. “This means for everyone five and older, getting vaccinated. And for those eligible, it means getting your booster shot. It means continuing to follow our multi-layer prevention measures, including masking in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, washing your hands frequently, and testing before gathering when possible.

“And if you are sick or have symptoms, it is best for you to stay home and to stay away from others,” Walensky said.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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