COVID-19 response: Officials try to keep schools open through ‘surveillance’ and ‘screening’ testing

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***Updated, noon Friday with a statement from Premier Wayne Panton**

In an effort to maintain in-person learning environments, ‘isolation’ is being replaced by ‘surveillance’ when COVID-19 cases are reported in local schools.

According to a pair of guidance documents published by the government Friday, if a student tests positive for COVID, their classmates and teachers will no longer have to go into quarantine, but rather will take daily rapid-result lateral flow tests for a set period of time. As long as those tests are negative, those individuals will be able to attend school.

“This will help to limit wide-scale disruptions to in-person learning for children in the Cayman Islands,” according to a guidance document on lateral flow testing in schools.

Premier Wayne Panton said in a statement issued late Friday afternoon, “COVID-19 spreads rapidly, and can cause societal disruption and severe strain on healthcare systems. The Government’s introduction of lateral flow tests will assist in quickly identifying positive cases via a more scalable and accessible option, which does not create additional pressure on the healthcare system, while also limiting the number of people having to go into required isolation, which is less disruptive for the community. People still need to earn a living, and children still need to access education services even as we do our best to stay safe and learn to live with the virus.”

New isolation periods for COVID-positive individuals and surveillance periods for their ‘primary contacts’ can vary depending on a person’s age and vaccination status.

As COVID-19 continues to take root in the community and the rapid-response tests have become available, public health officials are changing their strategic response, including by introducing proactive ‘screening’ for COVID in schools.

Screening programme

The screening programme is not mandatory, but is recommended by government.

“Screening using lateral flow tests is recommended for [staff, teachers and children in Early Childhood Care and Education] centres and schools, both Government and private. All test kits will be provided by the Government and are free of charge,” according to the document.

Lateral flow tests are only recommended for people aged 2 and older who are ‘asymptomatic’ — i.e. not showing any signs of COVID infection.

The tests also aren’t recommended for people who have recovered from a confirmed COVID infection within the past 90 days, to avoid ‘false positives’.

Schools participating in the screening should conduct tests twice a week, with tests taking at least 3 days apart.

Negative and positive results should be reported to Public Health.

If parents choose to conduct additional tests at home, the government will not pay for those tests, and only positive results should be reported to Public Health.

Response to COVID in schools

If a child tests positive on a lateral flow test, parents/guardians should contact Public Health immediately and ensure the child remains at home until cleared by officials.

A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is more accurate than a lateral flow test but the results take longer to process.

If a vaccinated child tests positive on a PCR test, they must isolate at home for 10 days and can return to school when they produce a negative PCR test. Depending on their symptoms, children must engage in virtual learning unless they are not well enough to do so.

If an unvaccinated child tests positive on a PCR test, the isolation period is extended to 14 days.

If a student (or teacher) tests positive for COVID, then their classmates must enter a ‘surveillance’ period of 10 days, where they take a daily lateral flow test and can continue to attend school as long as the results are negative.

Similarly, if a household member tests positive for COVID, then the children in the household must enter the same 10-day surveillance period. The positive result in the household should be reported to the school.

If a child’s ‘close contact’ (outside home or school) tests positive for COVID, the child should also enter the same 10-day surveillance period.

If, during the 10-day surveillance period, another member of the child’s class tests positive for COVID, the period is reset back to 10 days … That will continue until no positive results are received for the class for 10 consecutive days.

A vaccinated adult who tests positive for COVID must isolate for 10 days (or until cleared by Public Health), during which time children in the house can attend school if they take daily lateral flow tests and are negative.

However, if the COVID-positive adult is unvaccinated, the isolation and surveillance period is extended to 14 days.

For vaccinated household members of a COVID-positive child, they enter the 10-day surveillance period and can continue to go to work/school as long as daily results on lateral flow tests are negative. (That also applies to unvaccinated household members under the age of 18.)

If the household members are 18 years or older and are unvaccinated, they must isolate for 14 days, with a negative PCR test required for clearance.

People who cannot take lateral flow tests must isolate at home instead of entering the surveillance period.

Find the government guidance here and here.

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