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Quarantine practices for public school students has become a hot topic in Louisiana.

In a two-page message Friday to public school leaders, State Epidemiologist Theresa Sokol said it is of "paramount importance" that students exposed to COVID-19 be quarantined for at least seven days and that allowing parents to make the call would be a mistake.

"The decision to quarantine cannot rest with parents of children who are at risk of spreading the disease to others," Sokol said in her message.

"This would deprive other parents of any option to protect their children from exposure," she said.

"In order to effectively curb COVID-19 transmission in schools, quarantine policies must be based on the best available evidence for disease control, not personal preference," Sokol said.

State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said school districts deserve the option of letting exposed students remain in classrooms if their parents or legal guardians back the move.

Brumley said students are suffering learning loss from excessive quarantines and parents are complaining.

The plan has sparked heavy criticism from state health officer Dr. Joseph Kanter, Gov. John Bel Edwards and one doctor who has advised Brumley and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on coronavirus measures.

BESE President Sandy Holloway said Thursday Brumley's decision was abrupt and caught BESE members off guard.

Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said Thursday school leaders are reaching out to health officials before deciding whether to stick with the previous guidance from the state or let parents decide whether their child should quarantine.

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Sokol said data does not support making changes in quarantine practices.

"Roughly 50% of COVID-19 infections may be asymptomatic, where the infected individual has no discernible symptoms yet can still transmit the virus to others," she wrote.

"In addition, infected individuals that do develop symptoms are able to spread the virus to others two days before symptoms appear," Sokol said.

"That is why quarantine of close contacts to a case of COVID-19 is so important for controlling transmission," she said.

Sokol noted that the highest number of cases of the virus are among those younger than 18.

Since early August 25% of new COVID-19 cases have occurred among children.

No vaccines are available for those 5-11.

Only 29% of children 12-17 are fully vaccinated.

The state Department of Health plans to hold a webinar next week for school leaders to review quarantine recommendations.



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