ELLSWORTH — Schools that have implemented a universal masking policy can suspend their contact tracing processes, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Jan. 12.
Those processes, often carried out by school nurses and administration, determine who could have potentially been exposed to a COVID-positive student or staff member. Those “close contacts” are then advised to quarantine.
Shah said that aspects of the omicron variant, such as its contagion (data shows it could be three times more contagious than delta, Shah noted), the quicker latency period and the majority of transmission happening a few days before symptoms begin and a few days after their onset, reduce the effectiveness of contact tracing.
With the rapid spread, contact tracers can’t get to potential close contacts fast enough.
Trying to “catch” omicron, Shah said, “is like trying to catch a bullet train on a bicycle.”
He expressed the importance of keeping kids safely learning in person.
“We want kids to be in school, but we want them to be in school safely,” Shah said, which is why only schools with universal masking policies can stop their contact tracing protocols.
Shah said maintaining safety without contact tracing includes following safety guidance, such as getting students vaccinated and boosted.