The Madison School District will reduce the required quarantine time for students, teachers and staff who test positive for COVID from 10 days to five days, in line with updated federal guidelines, according to a Wednesday announcement.
The switch will take effect Tuesday, district spokesperson Tim LeMonds said in a statement.
The announcement comes after a letter was sent Monday by Wisconsin chief medical officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard and state health officer Paula Tran to all district and school administrators in the state that addressed the current surge in COVID-19 cases and included updated quarantine guidelines for districts to follow. State Superintendent Jill Underly threw her support behind shortened quarantines in a Monday letter as well.
The federal and state health agencies said those who test positive need to quarantine for just five days if they do not have any COVID-19 symptoms or symptoms have resolved or are improving after five days, followed by five days of wearing a well-fitting mask to minimize the risk of infecting others — regardless of their vaccination status.
Science shows that the majority of COVID transmission happens early in the illness, state health officials said in a letter to school districts on Monday.
Other Dane County districts that have implemented five-day quarantine for positive COVID cases include Oregon, Middleton-Cross Plains, Verona, Monona Grove and Belleville. The Sun Prairie School District plans to implement shortened quarantine on Jan. 18.
The Madison School District also plans to reduce its contact tracing for those connected to the district who test positive, to contacting only individuals who test positive and their high-risk household members, assuming there is adequate supply of COVID-19 tests, LeMonds said.
“As a part of this shift, schools will no longer be issuing emails, texts, or phone calls to close contacts, nor providing schoolwide notifications of positive cases,” he said.
COVID cases more than doubled between Jan. 3 and Jan. 9 in the district, with 703 recorded on Wednesday, the highest since the start of the school year.
The record number of cases in the last week makes up roughly one third of the district’s 2,184 cumulative cases so far in the 2021-22 school year. Just last week the district recorded its second-highest case count of 297 cases in a seven-day period.
Over the last 14 days, 328 staff members tested COVID positive, along with 626 students.
The district, with an enrollment of roughly 26,000 students and 5,000 staff members, recorded 1,196 close contacts in the past 14 days, compared with 804 close contacts recorded in the previous two-week period.
LeMonds pointed out that the increase in cases connected to Madison schools was recorded when students were out of the building during extended winter break for the first part of the week and online-learning for the second part of the week. There have been no school or classroom closures due to COVID-19 cases since in-person classes resumed on Monday, he said.
Dane County, state records
Dane County also set COVID-19 records again Wednesday, with health officials reporting a pandemic high of 202 patients hospitalized with the coronavirus, topping Tuesday’s total of 197, and 2,257 new cases, up from the previous record Tuesday of 2,127.
Among the patients in hospitals with COVID-19, 43 were in intensive care, up from 41 Tuesday and near the county’s pandemic high of 49 in November 2020, before vaccines became available.
Statewide, as of Wednesday, a record 2,278 patients were in hospitals with COVID-19, including a record 488 in intensive care, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association. All counties had critically high levels of COVID-19 activity, said the state Department of Health Services, which reported 10,277 new cases.
COVID-19 cases across Dane County have increased more than 43% during the past two weeks, while hospitalizations connected to the virus have increased more than 25%, according to data collected by Public Health Madison and Dane County. The county remains classified as a high transmission area for the virus, despite nearly 78% of residents having completed an initial vaccination series, and more than 58% of previously vaccinated eligible residents having received a booster.
The infection rate among children in Dane County has surged, with about 253 cases per 100,000 children ages 5 to 7, 370 cases per 100,000 children ages 8 to 11 and 459 cases per 100,000 children ages 12-17.
SSM Health and the Madison School District will again offer on-site vaccination clinics for students ages 5 to 11. The clinics, which provide scheduled vaccination times for students, will take place at the following sites:
- Jan. 14 beginning at 9 a.m.
- Jan. 20 beginning at 3 p.m.
- Feb. 1 beginning at 3 p.m.
- Feb. 4 beginning at 9 a.m.
- Feb. 10 beginning at 3 p.m.
In Madison, COVID cases have risen steadily since the end of October. All Dane County school districts also saw significant increases in the number of cases and quarantines in the past two weeks.
Around the county
Here are the latest infection and quarantine figures for other area school districts:
Mount Horeb (2,500 students): 83 cases during the past week. The Mount Horeb School Board voted on Nov. 27 to end required quarantines for those identified as close contact to a COVID-19 case.
Waunakee (4,400): 124 cases and required 120 to quarantine during the past week.
Middleton-Cross Plains (7,500): 115 cases and 104 close contacts among students and staff this past week. The Middleton-Cross Plains School District adopted the CDC and Wisconsin DHS five-day quarantine guidance.
DeForest (3,800): 90 cases and 210 quarantined this week.
Belleville (900): 25 cases and 65 close contacts last week. The Belleville School District adopted the CDC and Wisconsin DHS five-day quarantine guidance.
Wisconsin Heights (700): 92 cases between the start of the school year and Wednesday.
Monona Grove (3,600): 145 cases among students and staff last week. The Monona Grove School District adopted the CDC and Wisconsin DHS five-day quarantine guidance.
Stoughton (2,900): 91 cases among students and staff and 181 students and staff members quarantined last week.
Cambridge (900): 93 cases among students and staff between the start of the school year and Jan. 7.
Verona (5,700): 254 cases among students and staff in the past seven days. The Verona Area School District adopted the CDC and Wisconsin DHS five-day quarantine guidance.
Oregon (4,100): 76 cases last week. The Oregon School District adopted the CDC and Wisconsin DHS five-day quarantine guidance.
McFarland (2,400): 58 active cases on Wednesday.
Sun Prairie (8,300): 72 cases in the past seven days. The Sun Prairie Area School District plans to adopt the CDC and Wisconsin DHS five-day quarantine guidance on Jan. 18.
Marshall (1,100): 111 cases between the start of the school year and Jan. 5.
The Deerfield School District did not respond to a request for cumulative COVID case count.
State Journal reporter David Wahlberg contributed to this report.