CDC and MCPS COVID Guidelines – How do they compare?


Image courtesy MCPS

MCPS aims to increase testing at schools as the Omicron variant spreads.

With a surge in recent COVID-19 cases as a result of the Omicron variant, MCPS has updated its policies regarding quarantining as well as school closures. The CDC guidelines for quarantine as of Dec. 27 state that asymptomatic people should quarantine for five days, unless they still show symptoms. However, in the case of MCPS, the 10-day quarantine period is still in effect. 

The Dec. 27 release from the CDC also states that “the change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.”

MCPS is urging all students and staff to report if they test positive for COVID. To aid the county in their attempt to more accurately gauge the positive cases at schools, two at-home test kits have been given to each student. Moreover, in attempts to curb the rapid spread, new measures have been taken to improve the ventilation inside of schools, such as replacements and upgrades to HVAC filters at schools across the county. 

The flowchart that MCPS uses to determine whether or not quarantine protocols are necessary in a given situation relies directly on CDC guidelines, in terms of the definition of a close contact encounter with a person who has tested positive for COVID. According to the CDC, the definition of such a close contact encounter is “someone who was less than six feet away from an infected person (laboratory-confirmed or a clinical diagnosis) for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.” 

However, in the Student Health Checklist, MCPS modified the definition of a close contact encounter to one which is within three feet for that same 15 minute within  24-hour total. Another discrepancy in the two sets of guidelines is that the CDC only recommends unboosted or unvaccinated individuals to quarantine upon exposure to a person who has tested positive. If they have received their primary doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within the last six months, or have received their primary doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine over six months ago but are boosted, then there is no quarantine recommendation. 

The test-to-stay program also remains in effect for MCPS, which is deemed necessary should a student come into contact with someone who tested positive while unmasked. If a student was exposed when masks were worn and a high-risk activity (forced exhalation activities including playing an instrument or exercising), then they must sign up for the MCPS COVID-19 screening program. 

In the end, the general advice in slowing the spread of COVID remains the same for the Omicron variant: wearing a suitable mask (preferably a KN-95), getting tested in the event that one comes into contact with a person who has tested positive and staying home if symptoms arise.