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Wisconsin school boards pull back some COVID-19 safety measures; doctors express concern

Posted at 5:42 PM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-05 18:42:13-04

School boards and districts across southeast Wisconsin have been revisiting their COVID-19 safety measures, with some pulling away from requiring face masks and quarantine.

In a narrow vote, the School District of Waukesha school board voted Tuesday night to stop requiring quarantine for students or staff identified as a close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, is presumed positive, or waiting for a test result.

In a letter, the district said it will continue contact tracing and informing close contacts. People can choose to self-quarantine. Waukesha's school board did not discuss face coverings.

In Oconomowoc, the school board discussed making face masks optional.

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"When does it end? The goal line keeps moving farther every time we try to end the mandate. Many of us tonight, we're ready for this mandate to end immediately," a man named Greg said during public comment.

"The virus, as I said, is not yet finished with us. Vaccines are being rolled out. We need to hold the line here in Oconomowoc until the end of the school year," countered another man named John.

The board voted to continue requiring face masks indoors and optional outside for the remainder of the school year. Face masks will be optional in both settings for summer school, while other safety measures remain.

"We know mitigation measures like ventilation, social distancing, isolation, quarantine - those work. So it makes me really nervous, especially when we hear about the face masks possibly being pulled," said Dr. Kristin Bencik, a pediatrician with Children's Wisconsin Bayshore.

Dr. Bencik said with 22 percent of new infections in the country among kids, now is not the time to pull back.

"The other thing to think about is we have these new variants that are out there, which are much more contagious. So we don't know the data on these variants in schools yet. We know the data on the original COVID," said Dr. Bencik.

Dr. Ryan Westergaard with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services notes making face masks optional on campuses creates confusion and leads to less masking.

"Children, while it's true they are lower risk for severe disease, the risk is not zero, and the risk and the consequences can be serious. So we need to use all the tools that we have," said Dr. Westergaard.

While the School District of Waukesha got rid of required quarantine, the Centers for Disease Control guidance is more specific. It states close contacts who are not fully vaccinated should get tested and quarantine. Asymptomatic people who recovered from COVID-19 in the prior three months and asymptomatic people who are fully vaccinated do not need to. Close contacts who test positive or have symptoms should isolate, according to the CDC.

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