WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Palm Beach County School Board voted late Wednesday night to follow new state rules and allow students who have been exposed to COVID-19 but are asymptomatic to remain in school and not quarantine.
In a 5 to 2 vote, board members approved new COVID-19 protocols for students.
Under a new emergency rule issued by Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo on Wednesday, if a student is exposed to a positive case of COVID-19 but is asymptomatic, their parent or guardian can decide "how their child receives education."
Students will be allowed to attend school, school-sponsored activities, or be on school property without restrictions "so long as the student remains asymptomatic."
If a parent or guardian desires, the student may quarantine at home for no more than seven days "from the date of last direct contact" with the infected person.
If, however, the student becomes symptomatic or tests positive for COVID-19, they can't attend school, school-sponsored activities, or be on school property until one of the following conditions is met:
- The student receives a negative diagnostic COVID-19 test and is asymptomatic
- 10 days have passed since the onset of symptoms or positive test result, the student has had no fever for 24 hours, and the student's other symptoms are improving
- The student receives written permission to return to school "from a medical doctor licensed under chapter 458, an osteopathic physician licensed under chapter 459, or an advanced registered nurse practitioner licensed under chapter 464."
The rule states that "direct contact" with a COVID-19 positive individual means exposure for at least 15 minutes within six feet.
The Palm Beach County School Board voted Wednesday night to follow the new directive, meaning the more than 1,500 students currently ordered to stay home because of COVID-19 exposure can potentially return to class if they so choose.
"There's a new surgeon general and he's changed the decision tree. So now we're modifying our policy to meet the new surgeon general's decision tree," said School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri. "So if parents don't want their children to go home that are otherwise healthy, we keep them in school."
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Before Wednesday's major policy changes, Palm Beach County students who were exposed to COVID-19 had to stay home until they were asymptomatic and received a negative test "on day five after the date of last exposure to the COVID-19 positive individual," or until the student was asymptomatic and seven days had passed since the date of last exposure to the COVID-19 positive individual.
Board member Dr. Debra Robinson vehemently disagreed with the Florida surgeon general's new emergency rule, calling it "bad public health."
"I think it's bad public health to just ignore the fact that somebody's been exposed and potentially might get sick and/or infect others," Robinson said. "I think the children's learning loss is a problem that has to be solved. I just don't think that this is the right way."
Robinson added that data shows there have been "significant numbers" of COVID-19 transmission from people who are asymptomatic and presymptomatic.
"I don't think it's good public health, and I won't support it," Robinson said.
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School districts in Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Okeechobee counties said they too will follow the new emergency rule.
There have been 5,572 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the School District of Palm Beach County -- including 4,808 students and 764 employees -- since the 2021/22 academic year started on Aug. 10.
As of Tuesday, 1,524 students have been told to stay home because of possible COVID-19 exposure.
The Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday night also approved a plan to expand coronavirus testing for asymptomatic students. Currently, only students showing symptoms of COVID-19 can receive a rapid antigen test inside Palm Beach County schools.