That’s because many districts are following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is more lenient on who needs to quarantine in K-12 schools than in other settings. Inside schools, only unvaccinated children who are less than six feet away and unmasked, or less than three feet away and masked, need to quarantine, and only if they were exposed for more than 15 minutes over the course of a day, according to the C.D.C. Since most districts are requiring masks and aiming for three feet of distance, it’s less likely that even students in the same classroom qualify.
Public health experts have said this is safe, especially when balancing the risks of keeping children out of school for more time.
“I think that we should let the exposed kids come to school, if they were effectively wearing their masks,” said Dr. Danielle Zerr, division chief of pediatric infectious disease at Seattle Children’s Hospital, who said that masks and vaccines for all eligible people in students’ lives were most important for Covid prevention in schools.
As a result of the guidance, quarantines have been relatively rare in many places. In Denver Public Schools 0.4 percent of students are quarantined, according to the latest data. In Nashville, where the infection rate is four times that in Denver, 4.3 percent of public school students are quarantined. Both school systems started in August.
Some districts are even more lenient than the C.D.C. recommends. Twenty-eight — including in Austin, Texas; Hawaii; and Sacramento — exempt students from quarantine as long as they wear masks. Of the eight large districts in Florida in the database, seven allow students to return from quarantine as soon as two to five days after exposure. Miami-Dade County public schools require a 10-day quarantine.
Again, New York City is an exception. Entire elementary classrooms will quarantine if someone in the class tests positive. While this is among the most cautious approaches, it is more lenient than the district’s policy last year, when two cases shut down entire schools.
Districts are trying to avoid widespread quarantines, which have been a major disruption for children’s educations. They also cause uncertainty for parents; some say they cannot return to work if they may unexpectedly need to be home with their children for two weeks.