As Santa Barbara County schools are heading back to school this week for in-person learning, many parents have been wondering what schools will do if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19.

County school district officials have said that they are working very closely with the county Public Health Department for contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine procedures. 

“Our number one priority is to keep children in the classroom as much as possible because we know that is best for their education and that is best for their mental health,” Deputy Public Health Officer Peggy Dodds told Noozhawk.

Dodds said that the Public Health Department is following the state’s guidance for quarantine and isolation in the school setting. 

First and foremost, the state guidance recommends that everyone stay home from school or work when sick, and to get tested for the novel coronavirus if they are experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms. 

“We would strongly encourage anybody with any symptoms to get tested for COVID, whether they are vaccinated or not,” Dodds said.

Here’s more information on where, when, and how to get tested in Santa Barbara County.

Santa Barbara County Education Office photo

(Santa Barbara County Education Office photo)

Santa Barbara County Education Office photo

(Santa Barbara County Education Office photo)

New state guidance outlines different quarantine scenarios for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals who were wearing masks during a COVID-19 exposure at school and unvaccinated individuals who were not wearing a mask during exposure.

Fully vaccinated people can refrain from quarantine or testing following a known exposure if they are asymptomatic, but will need to monitor for symptoms for 14 days, according to the California Department of Public Health.

If an unvaccinated person is exposed to the virus when both parties were wearing masks, the person may undergo a modified quarantine. Dodds explained that this modified quarantine is a new concept that is aimed to keep students in school as much as possible.

In modified quarantine, students or teachers may attend school in-person if they are asymptomatic, continue to appropriately mask as required, undergo at least twice weekly testing during the 10-day quarantine period, and refrain from all extracurricular activities at school, according to the CDPH.

If an unvaccinated person comes into contact with someone known to be positive for the virus and was not wearing a mask, or the infected individual was not wearing a mask, the exposed person may discontinue self-quarantine without testing if they are asymptomatic after 10 days from the last date of exposure. 

Additionally, the quarantine can end after seven days if a diagnostic specimen is collected after five days from the last date of exposure and turns out negative, according to state guidelines.

However, to end the quarantine period before 14 days, asymptomatic close contacts must still self-monitor for symptoms for the full two weeks and follow all other public health safety recommendations for the full two weeks. If any symptoms do develop during the 14-day period, the exposed person must immediately isolate and seek testing, according to CDPH.

If a student or teacher is found to be positive for the virus, they must isolate themselves from others and inform their close contacts. A close contact is when someone comes within 6 feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes or more, and Dodds said that it is up to the schools to determine who the contacts were.

Staff members and students with symptoms are advised not to return for in-person instruction until at least 24 hours have passed since the resolution of a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, other symptoms have improved, at least 10 days have passed since symptom onset, they have a negative test, or a healthcare provider has given documentation that their symptoms are from an alternative diagnosis.

When three or more connected cases are reported at a school site, it is considered an outbreak. If an outbreak occurs, the Public Health Department would work with the school to figure out what constitutes a full or partial closure, Dodds said, adding that closures are determined on a very case-by-case basis.

Santa Barbara Unified School District’s 2021-22 COVID safety plan says that students and staff will not be penalized for missing instruction for COVID-19-related reasons.

Santa Maria Joint Union High School District students who have to quarantine for COVID-19 will not be enrolled in the independent study program, and will turn in their missed work upon returning to campus, said Kenny Klein, spokesman for the school district. 

Santa Maria-Bonita School District will take a similar approach, and students who have to quarantine will “more than likely fall under the previous style of independent study where we have to get in contact with teachers, get all the assignments, and make copies” for the students, said district spokeswoman Maggie White.

“The independent study program is really set aside for the families that do not want their children to be in-person or on campus, it’s not a pop-in and pop-out kind of thing,” White told Noozhawk. “In most cases, it would be like where a student has to complete a packet of work and turn it in when they’re feeling better and come back to school.”

Click here to read the state’s full K-12 school guidance.

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.