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Physician pushes back against decision to relax contact tracing in Georgia schools

The governor's office said the updated guidelines were created with the priority of keeping schools open.

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — On Friday, officials with the Georgia Department of Public Health and the governor's office stood firmly by their decision to allow schools to relax COVID-19 protocols.

A spokesperson with Gov. Kemp's office said that the decision was made with the priority of keeping schools open, adding that the omicron variant has a different makeup than other variants and that the updated measures would help schools continue to mitigate the spread.

One of the first districts to relax their guidelines was Cobb County, the second largest school district in the state. The district said that they felt this was the best way to balance in-person learning while minimizing the frequent policy changes associated with COVID-19. A spokesperson with the district added that many times close contacts weren't notified until after their quarantine period elapsed due to how long the process was taking.

However, Atlanta Physician Dr. Frita Fisher said she's concerned school and state leaders are not following the science.

"It so blatantly goes against the science that it leads me to believe that it must be due to political and economic pressures - which are very real. However, the decision should not be to send sick people out to infect more people," Dr. Fisher explained.

The physician also said that contact tracing is one of the most effective mitigation strategies to stopping the spread of COVID-19, even with the highly transmissible omicron variant.

“The beauty of contact tracing is that it allows people to know whether they are at risk before they have the symptoms. The science behind COVID-19 is that many people are infectious two days before they have symptoms. So, if you wait until people are symptomatic before having them quarantine - you can really miss the boat," added Dr. Fisher.

Several other districts have moved in the opposite direction as they prepare for in person schooling next week. Atlanta Public Schools is ramping up their existing protocols, while adding new safety measures, including offering student COVID-19 testing. Forsyth County is also sticking with current contact tracing and quarantine guidelines. The district said they won't be relaxing measures until the spike in cases normalizes.

The governor's state order said that asymptomatic teachers and staff can continue to work in school after exposure as long as they wear a mask for 10 days. The order also said that districts no longer have to trace and inform students and parents of every exposure to the virus.