Back at It Again with Updated Return to School/Work Guidance

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Back at It Again with Updated Return to School/Work Guidance

Sep 15, 2020

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Both the CDC and IDPH recently published updates regarding when individuals may return to school/work following a COVID-19 related event or travel. Specifically, for daycares and Pre-K through Grade 12, IDPH published an update to its prior “COVID-19 Interim Exclusion Guidance Decision Tree” (see our August 24, 2020 publication here). For all entities, both the IDPH and the CDC also changed their travel-related guidance. An overview of the updated guidance is set forth below.

Updates Directed at Daycares and Pre-K through Grade 12

On September 10, 2020, IDPH updated its “COVID-19 Interim Exclusion Guidance Decision Tree” likely in an effort to clarify some of the more confusing aspects of the prior version. Noteworthy changes include:

  • Following a confirmed or probable COVID-19 case, an individual may return to school (after the applicable quarantine protocol) in accordance with the release from isolation process employed by the local health department (LHD) (i.e., release from isolation letter, phone call, secure email, or fax from the LHD).  The same is true for asymptomatic individuals who were in close contact to a confirmed or probable COVID-19 case.
  • Symptomatic individuals without an alternative diagnosis and without diagnostic testing or clinical diagnosis no longer have to provide a release from isolation letter from the LHD.  While they must still follow the applicable quarantine protocol, after the 10-day exclusion period students can return with a note from the parent/guardian documenting that the student(s) are afebrile without fever-reducing medication and symptoms have improved.
  • On the issue of symptoms, the updated guidance now adds an exception where individuals need only be sent home or denied entry to school if they present with new symptoms which are not attributable to allergies or a pre-existing condition. This is a significant change and we will be reviewing the documents in our Return to School and Return to Campus toolkits and provide necessary updates to those that purchased the Toolkits. We have also updated our Return to School/Work Flowchart Following a COVID-19 Related Absence to address this change and the travel guidance discussed below for our Robbins Schwartz community.
  • Further clarification that “contacts to close contacts to a case need not be excluded unless the close contact becomes a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19.” For example, if a parent of a student is under a 14-day quarantine protocol after being identified as a close contact to a confirmed case, the student can attend school during the parent’s quarantine protocol so long as the parent is not a confirmed or probable case.  This is consistent with prior information released by Robbins Schwartz.
  • Supplemental considerations for school nurses and healthcare providers for assessing symptomatic individuals and assessing risk.

Since our updated Flowchart generally aligns with other aspects of the updated Decision Tree, no additional changes were made. School districts may refer to the IDPH Decision Tree, our flowchart, and consult with their local health department when considering building access and quarantine protocols. Again, at the end of the day, the key is to ensure that the applicable quarantine/isolation timeframes have been followed before allowing a student or staff member to return to school.

Return from Travel Updates (For All)

While international travel is not prevalent right now, we updated our Return to Work/School Flowchart based on recent guidance documents issued by the CDC and IDPH.  The CDC’s updated travel guidance appears to be based on risk of exposure during travel, as compared to the earlier guidance to quarantine for 14 days after all international travel.  It also refers to basic COVID-19 safety measures to be taken upon return from international travel, such as wearing a face covering, adhering to social distancing, hand washing and monitoring for symptoms.  The IDPH addressed the CDC’s updated travel guidance in its FAQ for Schools (as of 9/9/20) and makes clear that IDPH is recommending a 14-day quarantine after return from a country identified by the CDC as a high-risk assessment level for transmission of COVID-19.  Our updated flowchart now makes reference to Level 3 countries, instead of all international travel, and indicates that the quarantine protocol is recommended (at least in Illinois).  Given these recent changes, we recommend contacting your local health department to determine if a quarantine protocol should be followed if you learn that an employee, student or visitor is returning from any international travel (including, but not limited to, “Level 3” Countries). To the extent possible, you may wish to consider remote work/school options for those returning from international travel.

The model forms in our firm’s Toolkits which reference international travel considerations remain valid as Illinois is still recommending a quarantine protocol following return from certain countries.  In these instances, the employee, student or visitor will consult with the appropriate person at your institution to determine when they can access buildings/school/campus, and this will allow for consultation with your local health department.

For assistance with interpreting the everchanging health department guidelines for return to school/work, please contact any Robbins Schwartz attorney.