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Georgia relaxes contact tracing and quarantines for schools, expands testing availability

Gov. Brian Kemp outlined new school policies in a letter issued Thursday.

ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp announced new COVID policies for Georgia schools on Thursday that will relax requirements for contact tracing and teacher quarantines as well as expand testing availability through the state.

Guidance published on the Georgia Department of Health website and signed by DPH Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey does not specifically mention contact tracing, but the governor's communication indicates schools may do away with it entirely - a move Cobb County has already announced.

"We know that contact tracing has become more challenging as cases have increased in schools and throughout the community," the letter states. "While contact tracing is a 'Best Practice,' particularly for high-risk individuals, we understand that this may not always be possible in all cases and so can be considered as an optional service in schools at this time."

RELATED: Cobb schools discontinue contact tracing after state updates COVID guidelines

The administrative order outlines how teachers and staff, regardless of vaccination status, who have been exposed and remain asymptomatic may return from quarantine within five days "with five additional days of wearing a well-fitting mask," while also offering an exception that schools can take to effectively set their own policy.

It states schools may "elect to adhere to different quarantine requirements as developed by the local school district to facilitate in-person learning," without specifying what, if any, restrictions may be in place on localized standards, so long as quarantine is placed on someone whose exposure happened at school and they remain symptomatic.

Crucially, it says schools "may consider a Test to Stay Protocol" which would allow teachers and students to remain in a classroom after exposure without quarantining as long as they regularly test during what would be a quarantine period.

The CDC describes it this way: "Test to Stay (TTS) is a practice comprised of contact tracing and serial testing (testing that is sequentially repeated) to allow school-associated close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to continue in-person learning during their quarantine period."

Gov. Kemp's letter also promises a testing program, at no cost to school, that "is an expanded version of the program offered last fall."

"It now allows for the testing of symptomatic and asymptomatic students, staff, faculty and their family members," Kemp's letter states. 

The governor's letter adds, "Students, parents and educators have made it clear to us that they want to be in the classroom, and we are looking into many methods to continue safe, in-person learning... Like you, our chief goal is to keep our kids in the classroom with minimal disruption to their education, and we will continue to support you, your faculty, your students, and your parents in carrying out this mission."

See the DPH Administrative Order below: