Florida makes quarantine optional for asymptomatic students exposed to COVID-19, teacher goes to school in blackface to protest vaccine mandate

·9-min read

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

Florida's new surgeon general will allow parents to decide if their child quarantines after a COVID-19 exposure

Florida's new surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, announced this week that parents in the state will be given the choice of deciding whether their children need to quarantine after a COVID-19 exposure. Under Emergency Rule 64DER21-15, students in the state will not have to quarantine if they're asymptomatic.

If parents choose to keep an asymptomatic student home, they can only do so for seven days from the time that the child had direct contact with the COVID-positive patient. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people quarantine for at least 10 days after an exposure to someone with COVID-19, although people can end their quarantine on day seven after receiving a negative COVID-19 test.

Students who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 after an exposure must quarantine until they test negative for the virus and have no symptoms, have waited 10 days, no longer have a fever, are seeing improvements in their symptoms or bring in a note from a medical professional, per the new Florida order.

"The Governor and I share a similar vision of weighing the costs and benefits of public health policies – and our new rule today is an example of that," Ladapo said in a press release. "We must make sure that we are doing what is right for parents and for students. There’s not a single high-quality study that shows that any child has ever benefited from forced quarantining policies, but we have seen demonstrable and considerable harm to children. It’s important to respect the rights of parents."

Experts are wary of the new policy. "I think it's going to result in enhancing transmission of cases," Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life. "From a public health point of view, I do not think this will be beneficial. I'm not sure that parents are in the best position to judge this." Mask mandates are also forbidden in Florida schools, per governor's orders, Russo points out, although a judge has blocked the order. "If you're in a classroom where masks aren't being used and students are quarantining ... that's not good," Russo says.

Dr. John Schreiber, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life that something like this would potentially be able to work if schools consistently tested students for COVID-19. "Some districts may have the resources to pull that off, while others will never be able to manage that," he says.

Elementary school teacher placed on leave after showing up to school in blackface to protest vaccine mandate

An elementary school teacher at Oregon's Mabel Rush Elementary School has been placed on leave after showing up at school in blackface to protest the district's vaccine mandate. The teacher, later identified as Lauren Pefferle, has been placed on administrative leave, according to a statement from the Newberg Public Schools district. 

"It is important to remember how blackface has been used to misrepresent Black communities and do harm," the statement reads. "We acknowledge the violence this represents and the trauma it evokes regardless of intention. ... Blackface has no place in our schools, and we are committed to the work of created spaces where every student belongs as we move forward together in our mission of educating students."

Pefferle, who is a special education assistant, called herself Rosa Parks and darkened her face with iodine to protest the district's mandate for employees on Sept. 20, a fellow staff member told the Portland, Ore., news station KOIN-TV.

"I am horrified, angry and ashamed that this happened, as is nearly every other staff member," superintendent Joe Morelock said in a statement. "The students of color in Newberg deserve so much more. This goes against everything I and the vast majority of NSD staff believe, and is unfathomably offensive."

Morelock did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment on whether Pefferle will retain her job. 

University of Miami is requiring the flu vaccine for students and staff this year

The University of Miami is requiring that all students and staff receive this year's seasonal flu vaccine.

"This year, especially, with the pandemic, one of the things we wanted to avoid was having people with double viral pneumonia,” Emilio Volz, director of the university's Student Health Services, told campus newspaper The Miami Hurricane. "We certainly don't want to have a bad respiratory virus season on top of [COVID-19]. We actually saw a decrease in acquired infections because people were wearing masks all around, so we had a very light flu season last year and we’re hoping to keep that up.”

The University of Miami does not require the COVID-19 vaccine for students, but says online that the vaccine is "strongly encouraged." Faculty, staff and postdoctoral associates, however, are required to be fully vaccinated against the virus, although the school allows for medical and religious exemptions.

Students who plan to apply for a medical or religious exemption to the seasonal flu shot must submit their application by Oct. 22, according to the school

Schreiber, of the Connecticut Children's Medical Center, calls the seasonal flu vaccine mandate "a great idea." "The less influenza we could have this winter, the better we can keep people out of the hospital," he says. "We don't want another serious respiratory virus circulating." 

Russo says mandating the flu vaccine can also help keep students and teachers in classrooms. It's possible to get both the flu and COVID-19 at once, he says, but getting vaccinated against both illnesses dramatically lessens the chances this will actually happen. "If you get both viruses at once, we're not sure how severe it would be, but we prefer to not have to learn about that the hard way," he says. 

A third staffer at a Kentucky elementary school has died of COVID-19

A Kentucky elementary school that welcomed students back to class less than a month ago has already seen its third staff member die from COVID-19. Rhonda Estes, a guidance counselor at Lee County Elementary School in Beattyville, Ky., died this week from the virus.

"It is with a heavy heart that I confirm we have lost a dear friend and colleague this afternoon due to a COVID-related illness," Lee County Superintendent Sarah Wasson told the Lexington Herald-Leader. Wasson also noted that Estes had been a part of the school system for more than 31 years. Wasson did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment.

Estes died a little more than a week after a school custodian, Bill Bailey, succumbed to complications from the virus. An instructional assistant, Heather Antle, also died of the virus, two weeks before Bailey. 

Toni Konz Tatman, communications officer for the Kentucky Board of Education, noted the deaths on Twitter and urged people to protect themselves against COVID-19. "Please get vaccinated & wear masks as these are the primary ways to lessen impact of this highly contagious virus," she wrote

Lee County Schools instituted a mask mandate for students, faculty and visitors, beginning on Sept. 14. However, the district does not require the COVID-19 vaccine for eligible students or staff, noting online that "being vaccinated is a personal choice for adults and for parents and guardians of our students." 

The district has reported 26 positive COVID-19 cases since Sept 6. The state of Kentucky is in the middle of a surge of COVID-19 cases, and reported 4,099 probable and confirmed new cases of the virus on Thursday, per state data

Schreiber says stories like this demonstrate that "We can't say that we've won the war yet." He adds, "It's a marathon, and we need to continue to wear masks in schools." Russo notes that "the vast majority" of deaths from COVID-19 have been in people who are unvaccinated. "It's so important to get vaccinated," he says. 

In one month of school, COVID-19 cases in Texas schools have exceeded the total for the entire 2020-2021 school year

Texas schools have reported 154,444 new COVID-19 cases in students since the beginning of the academic year on Aug. 8, according to the Texas Department of State Health and Human Services. During the entire 2020-2021 school year, Texas reported 148,197 COVID-19 cases in schools, according to the Texas Tribune

What's the difference? Last year, school districts were allowed to mandate masks in schools; this year, schools are forbidden to require masks in school, per the governor's order issued in May. 

COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in Texas and continue to soar. On Thursday, the state reported 8,072 new confirmed cases, per state data. On Sept. 12, the most recent data that data is available for Texas schools, 23,779 students tested positive for the virus.

The data reflect a growing national trend of an increase in COVID-19 cases in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported this week that nearly 226,000 new cases of the virus were diagnosed in children the week ending Sept. 16, which is the most recent data that is available. Children now make up 25.7 percent of weekly COVID-19 cases, a big jump from the 15.7 percent of the total they've made up since the pandemic began. 

The data stress the importance of COVID-19 prevention in schools, Russo says. "If a school has a good mitigation plan that includes mandatory masks, then spread in school is likely to be less," he says. "If a school doesn't have good mitigation in place, there will be significant transmission in classrooms." Schreiber calls masking in schools "a good stop-gap measure" to help protect children who aren't yet eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. "Obviously, it's not a permanent measure, but right now, masking in schools is a good idea," he says. 

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