When the colleges in Marietta, Ga., opened their doorways on Aug. 3, the extremely contagious Delta variant was sweeping throughout the South, and youngsters weren’t being spared.

By Aug. 20, 51 college students within the metropolis’s small college district had tested positive for the coronavirus. Nearly 1,000 others had been flagged as shut contacts and needed to quarantine at residence for seven to 10 days.

“That’s a lot of school, especially for children that are recovering from 18 months in a pandemic where they missed a lot of school or had to transition to virtual,” mentioned Grant Rivera, the superintendent of Marietta City Schools.

Last week, the district modified tack. Students who’re recognized as shut contacts can now proceed attending college so long as they don’t have any signs and take a look at destructive for the virus daily for seven days.

An rising variety of college districts are turning to testing to maintain extra youngsters within the classroom and keep away from disrupting the work lives of their dad and mom. The resource-intensive method — generally referred to as “test to stay” or modified quarantine — permits college students who’ve been uncovered to the virus to remain at school so long as they take frequent Covid exams, that are sometimes offered by the college, and cling to different precautions.

Experts agree that youngsters who’re contaminated with the virus ought to isolate at residence, however the query of what to do about their classmates poses a dilemma.

Allowing youngsters who’ve been uncovered to the virus to stay at school does pose a possible transmission threat, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that it “does not have enough evidence” to help the method. Instead, it recommends that shut contacts who haven’t been totally vaccinated quarantine for so long as 14 days. (Vaccinated shut contacts can stay within the classroom so long as they’re asymptomatic and put on a masks, in line with the agency’s school guidance.)

“At this time, we do not recommend or endorse a test-to-stay program,” the C.D.C. mentioned in an announcement to The New York Times. The company added, “However, we are working with multiple jurisdictions who have chosen to use these approaches to gather more information.”

The C.D.C. tips imply {that a} single case of Covid in an elementary college, the place college students are usually too younger to be vaccinated, can power a complete classroom of kids out of faculty. New York City’s school guidelines additionally stipulate that every one unvaccinated college students should quarantine for seven to 10 days if certainly one of their classmates contracts the virus.

With the tutorial 12 months barely underway, some districts in Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and different Covid sizzling spots have already needed to quarantine a whole lot and even hundreds of scholars. In mid-August, Mississippi had nearly 30,000 students in quarantine, in line with data reported to the state.

A brand new research, which was published last week in The Lancet, means that the test-to-stay method may be secure. The randomized managed trial included greater than 150 colleges in Britain, and located that case charges weren’t considerably greater at colleges that allowed shut contacts of contaminated college students or workers members to stay at school with each day testing than at those who required at-home quarantines.

Roughly 2 % of school-based shut contacts finally examined optimistic for the virus, researchers discovered, which implies that colleges had been retaining 49 uninfected college students out of sophistication each time one scholar examined optimistic.

“When you put that in the broader context of what we’re doing in society, it’s putting a pretty strong penalty on young people, I think,” mentioned Dr. Bernadette Young, an infectious illness skilled on the University of Oxford and a lead writer of the paper.

This summer time, the United Kingdom introduced that youngsters recognized as shut contacts no longer needed to quarantine, though it inspired them to be examined for the virus.

As college officers embark on a 3rd pandemic tutorial 12 months, many say the time has come for a brand new method.

“The philosophy of this is how can we keep healthy kids in school and sick kids at home?” mentioned Isaac Seevers, the superintendent of Lebanon City Schools in Ohio, which is getting ready to start out a test-to-stay program. “I think there’s some real optimism that this is a game-changer for how we learn to live with Covid.”

Melissa True Gibbs, a mom of two youngsters in Sandy, Utah, prefers not to consider final fall. “It was hell,” she mentioned.

In August, her soccer-playing daughter, Lydia, and theater-loving son, Brody, trudged off to Alta High School.

By late September, with Covid circumstances on the rise, the college shut its doorways and transitioned to on-line studying. Two weeks later, it shifted to a hybrid schedule — by which college students got here to highschool on some days and discovered from residence on others — after which again to in-person after which again to hybrid after which again to thoroughly on-line as case numbers rose once more.

“My kids are pretty resilient,” Ms. True Gibbs mentioned. “But man, that first half of that year, I saw things happening with my kids that scared me. They weren’t emotionally well, they weren’t mentally well, they were struggling.”

Many different colleges in Utah had been having comparable experiences. So as winter approached, officers developed a test-to-stay protocol. Small colleges that had 15 circumstances, or bigger ones that had a 1 % an infection charge, may both swap to on-line studying or maintain a mass testing occasion. Students who examined destructive may return to class, whereas those that had been contaminated, or whose households didn’t consent to the testing, would keep residence.

Thirteen colleges, together with Alta High, carried out test-to-stay occasions early this 12 months. Just 0.7 % of 13,809 college students examined optimistic, researchers reported in May.

“That made us feel really confident that continuing in-person learning in these schools was the right call,” mentioned Dr. Adam Hersh, an skilled in pediatric infectious ailments on the University of Utah and a co-author of the paper.

The program saved greater than 100,000 in-person student-days final winter, the researchers discovered.

Ms. True Gibbs mentioned that the testing program allowed her youngsters, who examined destructive, to maintain going to class, follow and rehearsal. “For my kids, it made them feel safer, because they knew the students who were at school weren’t sick,” she mentioned.

In March, the state enacted a law requiring colleges to carry test-to-stay events after they hit sure outbreak thresholds.

Other colleges and districts have adopted comparable options, specializing in testing solely college students who had been recognized as shut contacts.

Some states, together with Illinois, Kansas, California and Massachusetts, have now outlined their very own test-to-stay or modified quarantine protocols, as have some native districts elsewhere. More than 2,000 colleges in Massachusetts are utilizing the state’s process, which permits close contacts to stay in school so long as they’re asymptomatic, put on a masks and take a look at destructive for the virus each day for seven days after publicity.

Many dad and mom throughout the nation are thrilled concerning the new method. For Monica Fambrough, who has twin daughters in second grade and a son in fifth grade at school in Marietta, the primary six weeks of faculty had been harrowing.

“We have, every Friday, sort of done a little cheer — we made it through the week without getting quarantined,” she mentioned. “I just feel like every day that I send them to school, we’re kind of rolling the dice that we’re going to get a close-contact notice. And so having the option to keep them in school, even if they are a close contact, is a very big deal for my family.”

Attending class in particular person shouldn’t be solely a greater academic expertise for her youngsters, she mentioned, but additionally a boon for her and her husband, each of whom work from home.

But Jennifer Shotwell, who has youngsters and grandchildren at school in Missouri, apprehensive that permitting shut contacts to stay at school may put weak youngsters — like her granddaughter, who has an autoimmune dysfunction — in danger. “If I could have my way, modified quarantine would not be used in her classroom at all until students can be vaccinated,” she mentioned.

And some localities have extra stringent tips than others. While Massachusetts and Marietta require each day testing for shut contacts, Illinois requires testing each different day and California’s tips stipulate twice-weekly testing.

Some districts have solved the issue of disruptive quarantines by abandoning the follow altogether. “If you’re a close contact, we’re not requiring that you stay home for a quarantine period,” mentioned Joe Koch, the deputy superintendent of the college district of Waukesha, Wis. The college board has taken the method that “essentially it’s up to you how you want to manage Covid for yourself,” he mentioned.

For the test-to-stay method to work, the exams have to be available and simply accessible. Relatively few households have opted into Marietta’s program to date, maybe as a result of they don’t have transportation to the district’s central testing website, Dr. Rivera mentioned. (The district hopes to increase the variety of testing websites quickly.)

In Bay County, Mich., greater than 300 college students have already been recognized as shut contacts, mentioned Joel Strasz, the county’s well being officer.

“We require that the test be done on site prior to entry to school,” Mr. Strasz mentioned of the test-to-stay protocol. “It’s pretty manageable if you only have to test five or 10 kids. But when you’ve got to test close to 100, then that can be challenging, and we had to scramble to get resources to the schools.”

Test-to-stay applications are most possible when paired with different security measures, together with masking, specialists mentioned. Utah, which required masks in colleges final 12 months, has banned such mandates this 12 months, and a few districts have determined to not do any testing in any respect until they hit the outbreak threshold, mentioned Kendra Babitz, the state’s Covid testing director.

Robust testing is a “really important” technique for supporting in-person studying, Dr. Hersh mentioned. “But it’s operationally challenging. So to the extent that we can reduce the frequency with which we need to be concerned about close contact exposures, and all that goes with that, we’re going to be creating much more sustainable learning environments.”

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