COLUMBUS, Ohio — School districts in Ohio will no longer be required to perform universal contact tracing in schools, according to new guidance by the state’s health department.
In a memo sent to school superintendents and local health departments, health officials say new guidance on quarantine and isolation and the fast-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19 have made certain methods such as universal contact tracing, "impractical."
Health officials explained during a press briefing Thursday that because the omicron variant is "substantially" different, the best way to respond is to "treat it like it's everywhere."
The guidance suggests while contact tracing is no longer needed, schools should continue to follow the “Mask to Stay, Test to Play” protocol and allow asymptomatic students to attend school while wearing a mask if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
The Ohio Department of Health’s new guidance recommends that local health departments shift to a cluster- or outbreak-based model.
“This strategy prioritizes people in high-risk settings, such as congregate residential settings (e.g., shelters, correctional facilities, and nursing homes) or for certain circumstances such as outbreaks or clusters in specific settings or in relation to initial cases or clusters associated with new variants, as appropriate,” the guidance reads.
Schools are also expected to assist local health departments with contract tracing and other methods related to outbreaks and clusters in schools.
During the briefing, health officials clarified they are not asking parents to "guess" where exposure might be coming from. They said they're advising that "the exposure is everywhere."
In addition, the Ohio Department of Health announced it will shift to reporting school cases weekly and encourages schools to report positive cases to their local health departments every Friday.
The new reporting schedule will begin Feb. 4.
What sparked the change? Health officials said they have found the delta variant to be more dangerous while the omicron variant is more contagious.