With its school year beginning Monday, Prince William County Public Schools has released guidance on COVID-19 quarantines, and some county schools are rethinking their cafeteria set-ups.
According to the guidelines, which the department released last week and says are based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health, vaccinated students and staff will not be required to quarantine after a close contact unless they have COVID-19 symptoms.
Unvaccinated students will not have to quarantine if the contact is within the classroom setting, in which students and staff are supposed to be masked and 3 feet or more apart. Unvaccinated adults in the same situation, however, will have to quarantine, as will unvaccinated students if the contact takes place within 6 feet and without masks.
COVID-19 quarantines have already affected other school systems that opened earlier this month, including those in Rappahannock and Fauquier counties. In Fauquier, over 200 students were being quarantined just a week after schools opened, and Rappahannock was forced to close its elementary school for a day this week.
The Prince William division’s communications staff said the school system is not keeping records of which teachers and staff were vaccinated but that “a majority of PWCS staff attended vaccine clinics held … this past spring.”
Diana Gulotta, the division’s director of communications services, said the county is not considering mandating vaccines for staff or eligible students. Currently, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for children 12 and older, and emergency-use authorization is expected by early fall for children ages 5-11.
Earlier in the year, a resolution proposed by School Board member Jennifer Wall of the Gainesville District to “encourage” school system staff to be vaccinated was defeated 5-3.
Loree Williams, the Woodbridge District representative on the School Board, said about the resolution then, “It doesn’t give any credence to people’s own personal opinions, how they feel about a vaccine and the medical community, their cultures and respect to that.”
Cafeteria set-ups being rethought
Meanwhile, some principals are already sending notes to parents saying that they’re rethinking their cafeteria set-ups as COVID cases in the county continue to rise. Originally, the division had said mitigation strategies would be used for food service when possible, but that there would be no mandatory spacing of students who will be eating together without masks.
In an email provided by a parent to InsideNoVa, T Clay Wood Elementary Principal Andrew Buchheit said his school would be bringing back dividers in the cafeteria.
“I know the cafeteria has been a concern for many of us. I have been able to work with our Food Services and Nutrition Department to extend our lunch hours so that we will have a space between everyone and so that we do not have students sitting right next to one another,” he wrote in the email to parents. “We are also going to start off the year with dividers on the cafeteria tables and see how this goes.”
According to another email provided to InsideNoVa, students at Piney Branch Elementary School will also eat with plexiglass barriers and spaced 3 feet or more apart in the cafeteria.
The CDC however, has stopped recommending plexiglass barriers for COVID mitigation. According to a June article in Bloomberg, CDC research found that plexiglass barriers in Georgia schools “didn’t correlate with lower infection rates.” Wearing masks or being outdoors, on the other hand, has been repeatedly shown to reduce the spread of the virus.