Florida makes quarantine optional for exposed students

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, at the Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. DeSantis was there to promote the use of monoclonal antibody treatments for those infected with COVID-19. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A day after assuming his job, Florida's newly appointed surgeon general on Wednesday signed new rules allowing parents to decide whether their children should quarantine or stay in school after being exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The guidelines signed by Dr. Joseph Ladapo eliminate previous rules requiring students to quarantine for at least four days off campus if they've been exposed. Under the new rules, students who have been exposed can continue going to campus, “without restrictions or disparate treatment,” provided they are asymptomatic. They can also quarantine, but no longer than seven days, provided they do not get sick.

“Quarantining healthy students is incredibly damaging for their educational advancement,” Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday at a news conference in Kissimmee. “It’s also disruptive for families. We are going to be following a symptoms-based approach.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who get infected can spread the virus starting from two days before they have any symptoms. The CDC recommends that a student should quarantine for 14 days if they are unvaccinated. They can shorten the quarantine to seven days by testing negative, according to the CDC.

Unchanged from the earlier rules are requirements that students with the virus either quarantine for 10 days, receive a negative test and be asymptomatic or offer a doctor's note granting permission.

Also unchanged from the previous guidelines are rules allowing schools to adopt mask mandates as long as students can opt out. School officials in Alachua, Broward, Leon and Miami-Dade and Orange counties recently challenged that rule prohibiting mask mandates, but the Florida Department of Health on Wednesday said in a court filing that the challenge should be dismissed since the old rules are now moot.

Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon called the Department of Health rule changes “disingenuous.”

“Essentially, the State is responding to the legal challenges of its rules by repealing them and creating new ones, with limited public notice,” Simon said in a statement.

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Adriana Gomez-Licon in Miami contributed to this report.

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