January 04, 2022
New Jersey is providing school districts with an additional tool to help keep more students in the classroom amid the ongoing surge in COVID-19 infections across the state.
Schools can now adopt a "Test to Stay" policy which would allow asymptomatic, unvaccinated children who test negative for the coronavirus to continue with in-person instruction after having close contact with a COVID-positive student, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.
The "Test to Stay" option only applies to students who have been exposed to COVID-19 in school settings while supervised by staff indoors, outdoors or on school buses. It does not apply to exposures that occur outside of school.
Unvaccinated, asymptomatic students who test negative would be permitted to continue participating in academic activities provided during school hours. They would not, however, be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.
These students would also need to isolate when not at school and comply with enhanced masking, social distancing and testing requirements.
School districts would first need to receive consent from a student's parents or guardians before beginning enhanced testing. Rapid antigen testing would be performed at least twice over a seven-day period. Results would need to be reported to local public health officials and to a student's family.
Unvaccinated students who eventually develop COVID-19 symptoms after exposure would need to quarantine and pivot to virtual learning.
The "Test to Stay" concept was initially recommended last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help keep more unvaccinated, asymptomatic students in classrooms. Similar policies are being used in states like California and Illinois.
Current statewide guidance advises unvaccinated students to quarantine at home for at least seven days if contact tracing shows they were exposed to a COVID-positive person in schools, according to the state health department. That quarantine period extends up to 10 days if they don't get tested. Fully vaccinated close contacts who are asymptomatic do not need to quarantine.
The rollout of the "Test to Stay" option in New Jersey comes as rising COVID-19 infections has forced several school districts across the state to pivot to online-only learning.
A total of 373 COVID-19 outbreaks connected to in-school activities have been identified over the past four weeks, resulting in 2,123 reported cases, according to the state. But officials said that's below what they anticipated amid the recent spike in COVID-19 infections caused by the highly-contagious omicron variant.
Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday that the state has no plans to shut down in-person learning amid the uptick in cases statewide.
"We will do everything we can to keep our kids in schools where not only we know they will have a more appropriate educational experience but where the data actually shows they can be kept in an overall reality safe," Murphy said.
New Jersey schools have operated largely in-person this academic year. All students and teachers, regardless of their vaccination status, have been mandated to wear masks in school buildings. A vaccine requirement was implemented this academic year for all teachers and school staff.
New Jersey is reporting its highest number of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. The state recorded 30,414 new coronavirus infections Tuesday, according to New Jersey's COVID-19 dashboard. New Jersey's seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases now exceeds 30,000.
Nearly one out of every three COVID-19 tests administered in New Jersey over the last seven days is returning positive results, driving the state's rate of coronavirus transmission up to 1.78 for the past week.