By Will Stribling
The Mississippi Department of Health is reevaluating its COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) loosening its own recommendations on Aug. 11.
The new CDC guidance further emphasizes individual risk mitigation over population-level precautions.
“We know that COVID-19 is here to stay,” Greta Massetti, a CDC epidemiologist, said at a press conference following the release of the new guidance. “High levels of population immunity due to vaccination and previous infection, and the many tools that we have available to protect people from severe illness and death, have put us in a different place.”
Over the course of the pandemic, COVID-19 has infected over 896,000 Mississippians and killed nearly 13,000. Mississippi has the highest per capita death rate from COVID-19 of any state in the nation, with 427 deaths for every 100,000 people, compared to a national average of 311, according to the New York Times.
CDC guidance no longer differentiates between vaccinated and unvaccinated people in its recommendations. Mississippi remains one of the least vaccinated states in the nation, only ahead of Wyoming, according to CDC data. Just 53% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated and only 21% have received a booster dose.
The state health department’s COVID-19 guidance for the current school year was released in July. In its current form, it recommends actions no longer included in CDC guidelines.
The CDC removed a recommendation that kids who are contacts of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 take regular tests, and test negative, to remain in the classroom. The process was known as “test-to-stay.”
Schools in Mississippi are able to receive at-home BinaxNOW COVID-19 tests through its School Based Screening Testing Initiative. One of the allowed uses for these tests is test-to-stay initiatives, and the department recommends that asymptomatic teachers and students receive a negative test on days one, three and five after exposure to remain in the classroom.
“MSDH is aware of the updated guidance from CDC and is currently reviewing to determine the modifications and updates that will be needed in Mississippi’s guidance to schools moving forward,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said.
The CDC no longer recommends a practice known as cohorting in schools. In cohorting, students are divided into smaller groups and contact between them is limited to avoid potential transmission.
The new guidelines note that schools should consider continuing surveillance testing in certain situations, such as when students are returning from school breaks or for certain groups at higher risk of transmitting the virus, such those who play contact sports.
Indoor masking is still recommended for areas with high levels of community transmission.
The new CDC guidance no longer recommends quarantining after exposure, but instead wearing a high-quality mask for 10 days and testing on day 5 after exposure. The new guidance also removed the recommendation for social distancing by standing six feet apart from others.