Children line up to get onto the bus after the first day of school at Goodwin Frazier Elementary on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. MIKALA COMPTON | Herald-Zeitung

After conferring together, the New Braunfels and Comal independent school districts revised their definitions of those coming in “close contact” with students and staffers who test positive for COVID-19.

Both districts said previous COVID-19 protocols led to 14-day quarantines of hundreds of students — most only in fleeting contact with test-positive individuals in classrooms and other campus areas. 

Officials from both districts said their decisions weren’t influenced by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidelines redefining those in close contact with others testing positive for COVID-19.

Rebecca Villarreal and Steve Stanford, respective communications directors for NBISD and Comal ISD, said officials in both districts met with area health officials last week. The end result are new protocols that become effective with the start of the new nine-week grading period Monday.

“Based on this data, we are making an adjustment . . . an individual will be considered a close contact if they are directly exposed to infectious secretions (e.g., being coughed on); or they are within 6 feet (during) a largely uninterrupted period totaling approximately 15 minutes,” NBISD Superintendent Randy Moczygemba stated to parents Tuesday. 

“If both individuals are properly masked, they will not be considered to be in close contact,” he said, adding the district has also prohibited neck gaiters preferred over masks by many students wearing protective face coverings.

Comal ISD still allows neck gaiters but its virus contact definition matched NBISD’s almost word for word in a letter sent to parents last Friday. Superintendent Andrew Kim redefined “close contact” with an example — if a person confirmed to have the virus coughed on another person, the other person would be in “close contact” and placed into mandatory quarantine.

By the numbers

According to COIVID-19 dashboards, Comal ISD had 16 active test-positive cases, 36 with virus symptoms and 102 currently quarantined after contact-traced to a positive virus patient. Since school began in August, Stanford said 54 students and 18 staffers have tested positive and 416 others quarantined among 28,000 students and staffers. 

NBISD reported 14 test-positive active cases, 65 with virus symptoms and 437 quarantined after contact with a positive virus patient. Since school started, 34 students and 10 staffers have tested positive and 689 quarantined among 9,300 students and staffers. 

“We looked at our data which showed that after those 14 days of quarantine the kids who returned didn’t test positive,” Villarreal said. “Some may not like that we’re changing the definition of close contact, and want to get parents on both sides of the issue involved.”

Last week the district confirmed 1,408 students returning to campuses and only 171 switching from on-campus into remote learning programs — or vice versa — beginning with the new nine-week grading period that begins Monday. However, after discussing it at Monday’s trustees meeting and in a Zoom conference with parents Tuesday evening, it gave parents until 5 p.m. Thursday to change their minds. Last Friday, 5,366 students were in on-campus classrooms and 3,474 in remote learning.

“In reviewing our own data, you will see that only five individuals of 689 who were quarantined contracted COVID-19 from exposure at school,” Superintendent Randy Moczygemba said. “Four of the five individuals had “close contact” in athletics, where masks were not being worn. The fifth individual had “close contact” at lunch, again where masks were not being worn.

NBISD’s case management team determined only five individuals, or 1.2%, ended up testing positive at a later date.

“This tells us that our prevention and mitigation measures are effective in reducing widespread transmission from a lab-confirmed positive to other individuals.” Moczygemba said.

Villarreal said the current definition quarantines all students in vicinity of those testing positive, including those wearing adequate face protection and following social distancing.

“The new (guidelines) won’t automatically force students (in contact) to go into quarantine,” she said. “But all students who do come in contact with those positive can option to be quarantined.”

Added Moczygemba: “We recognize that due to the nature of certain activities, such as eating, actively exercising, or engaging in other extra-curricular activities, it may be impractical to wear a face covering. 

“In these situations, anyone within six feet for more than 15 minutes will still be considered a close contact and will need to remain off campus for the 14-day viral incubation period.”

Stanford said Comal ISD’s positive cases had been traced to non-campus sources. He said the district is still allowing students to wear neck gaiters, but it’s up to them to wear them to protect themselves against COVID-19.

“They can still wear them but will it protect them from being considered as close contact with someone else,” he said. “Say you and I are sitting in a room with another who gets confirmed positive in a few days. If I’m wearing a gaiter and you’re wearing a mask, I’m the one going home from school,” he said.

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