TN Dept. of Health updates quarantine guidelines for schools; now up to 24 days if living with positive COVID-19 person


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Tennessee Department of Health updated its guidelines of health recommendations for the management of COVID-19 in schools.

The update included how long certain people should be in quarantine or isolation if someone in their household has tested positive for coronavirus.

Knox County Schools teachers reportedly received notification about the updates on Friday and were concerned about how the overall education environment would be impacted by the lengthier time away from the classroom.

According to the updated guidelines, a teacher or student who lives with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 must not only stay in 10 days of isolation along with the positive case, but also needs to stay in isolation for an additional 14 days.

The length of time could be different if one of the parties lives outside (and does not come in close contact with the infected person) of the home during the isolation phase.

Tanya Coats, president of the Knox County Education Association, said she has never heard of someone having to wait 24 days in isolation if a loved one in the household tested positive.

“I thought it was a misprint, because at first, when I received it I was like, “I haven’t heard of any documentation on people having to quarantine for 24 days,” Coats said.

However, during a press conference with the Knox County Health Department on Tuesday, director Dr. Martha Buchanan said the guidelines came down from the CDC and it’s something everyone should be following if a loved one in their home tests positive for COVID-19.

“If it’s a child and say the parent is a teacher, they’re likely going to have to have contact with that child the whole time they’re not feeling well. So, that could be a 24-day quarantine period,” Buchanan said.

Coats said the guideline is difficult for teachers for many reasons.

She said one reason is the fact that a large portion of people living in the county works for the school district.

“Just think if that happens at one school, then we will have a shutdown of a whole school, if not our system, if anyone comes in contact with Covid at someone’s house,” Coats said.

Coats also brought up a concern for teachers living with students and the parent works at a different school.

In that scenario, two schools would be impacted.

Coats said teachers aren’t given enough sick leave for COVID-19 either.

She said teachers get 10 free COVID-19 related sick days. Those 10 days would barely be enough for a teacher to stay home if they were infected with the virus themselves.

They would either have to use other paid-time off-days or not get paid at all.

“Ask the governor along with our local administration, our school board, to give unlimited sick days, paid sick days, to educators because we’re actually helping the system of going back teaching kids, but we have to pay for the 14 days just to be in quarantine? That doesn’t seem like it is equitable for educators to be in a profession that is not willing to get (them) compensated for something they have no control over,” Coats said.

Even with the district offering virtual classes, Coats said more substitutes would be needed and there has been a substitute shortage before the pandemic started.

It’s unclear how the district will work with teachers regarding the virtual option.

Coats said Knox County teachers have been told to have videos and other materials prepared just in case they have to work from home for a while.

She said though, parents could be negatively impacted by a 24-day quarantine as well.

“Those parents will say, ‘I should have other options. I should be able to switch my child over to virtual.’ And it won’t be possible as it stands right now, within Knox County Schools. Or it could be, again, a case-by-case circumstance. And it can also add an undue burden onto parents that thought that they could go back to work, but they couldn’t go back to work because that is a whole month, if you think about it,” Coats said.

Coats said the state or the district should create some sort of testing program such as the NBA, or just do virtual school all together until a vaccine comes out.

Otherwise, too many teachers or students might be out of school for 24 days, even if they were not actually infected with COVID-19.

“If you really need educators to teach students on a day-to-day basis, we need to do a better job of making sure that they’re tested and able to get back to the jobs that they love,” Coats said.

Instead of commenting about the quarantine guidelines, the Knox County Schools referred to the press conference with the Knox County Health Department, which can be found here.

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