Marin eases schools’ COVID-19 testing guidelines

Marin School students who contract COVID-19 and then isolate at home for five days no longer need a negative test to return to the classroom, officials said this week.

“The isolation can end on day 6 when the fever is clear and the symptoms go away,” said Dr. Lisa Santora, the county’s deputy health officer, Monday in an online forum hosted by the Marin County Board of Education. “You don’t have to test again.”

Students returning to school after five days of isolation must wear a mask indoors until day 10 after being infected, Santora said. The new guidance, which takes effect from Tuesday, is conditional on Marin students wearing quality masks indoors for about a week, she said.

“A mask is key so we can loosen the lead,” said Santora. “It depends on the students wearing their masks from day six to ten.”

If a student cannot or does not want to wear a mask, they will not be allowed to return to school until the 10 days are up, Santora said. The latter includes student-athletes who cannot wear a mask during competition.

School administrators must monitor this requirement and not allow students to return unmasked, Santora said.

“You have to tell the students, ‘If you can’t wear a mask, you have to go home,'” Santora said.

“It depends on trust,” she said. “The school management needs to talk to the families so that the staff and other students don’t have to worry.”

Marin teachers and other school staff still need to test negative after five days of isolation to return because their working conditions are regulated by the California Department of Occupational Safety and Health, Santora said.

The new guidance brings Marin in line with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has already passed the new rules.

The CDC has determined that the first five days of COVID-19 infection are key to isolation, Santora said.

“The first five days are the most contagious,” Santora said. Students who are at home during the five days of isolation but still interact with other family members or roommates should keep a mask on at home, Santora added.

“In addition, the family should do everything possible to improve ventilation at home as much as possible – open all windows and doors,” she said. “Give us five good days of isolation.”

The CDC placed Marin in the community-level low transmission category thanks to a combination of case rates and hospitalization data, said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin’s Public Health Officer.

“The community level is a more sophisticated measurement,” Willis said. “It not only takes into account the number of cases, but also the hospitalization rate.”

According to the CDC, Marin has a weekly average of 75.73 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. The number of new COVID-19 hospital admissions is 8.5 people per 100,000 population.

The percentage of staffed inpatient hospital beds used by patients with confirmed COVID-19 is 3.7%, according to the CDC. Marin was actually below those averages this week, Willis said.

“Today we have three people hospitalized with COVID-19 and one in intensive care,” Willis said Monday, referring to the intensive care unit.

Willis said the county’s current low municipal status bodes well for the winter holiday season, which has traditionally been a time of COVID-19 flare-ups due to increased indoor gatherings.

“We’re well prepared,” Willis said. “We have a high vaccination rate and increasing vaccination immunity.”

Also, Marin residents have access to the new bivalent vaccines, which offer protection against the Omicron strain of the virus, Willis said. The bivalent booster is currently available for people aged 12 and over.

“Plus, if you do get infected, we have safe and effective treatments like Paxlovid,” he said.

Another plus for the winter holiday season is that a number of Marin residents who have had COVID-19 and have recovered have developed immunity from antibodies the body made in response to the infection.

“I would say that 80% to 90% of Marin have what is called ‘hybrid immunity,’ which is a combination of vaccine-acquired and infection-induced immunity,” Willis said.

He said that “hybrid immunity” is not the same as “herd immunity” because the coronavirus has continued to mutate. The mutations make it impossible to tell whether everyone in a given population had broad protection against the same strain of the virus, he said.

Marin has one of the highest immunization rates of any county in the nation. Of the county’s 254,537 residents, 98% have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Marin Health and Human Services Department’s website, coronavirus.marinhhs.org/vaccine.

Approximately 92.1% of Marin residents have received the full original series of vaccines and 66.8% have received at least one booster shot.

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