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INDIANAPOLIS — Hundreds of students will be heading back to the classroom next week, and when they do they will be met with new isolation guidelines.

On Thursday, the Indiana Department of Health held a special meeting with local school districts and health departments to provide guidance on the CDC’s new quarantine and isolation guidelines.

“It was mostly a walkthrough of the guidance from CDC,” said Monica Heltz, public health director for the Fishers Health Department. “A chance to explain that [guidance] to everyone, especially for school staff who may or may not be medical.”

Effectively immediately, Heltz said central Indiana schools will begin implementing the new guidelines.

“We want to keep our kids in school and so hopefully this will help us do that and make the environment safe,” said Penny Caudill, health administrator for the Monroe County Health Department.

Caudill said in order to understand the new guidance, it is important to differentiate when Hoosiers would need to quarantine versus isolate.

According to the CDC’s guidelines released earlier this week, “isolation” occurs after someone officially tests positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, “quarantine” occurs after someone is exposure to the virus or comes in close contact with someone known to have COVID-19.

With these definitions in mind, the new CDC guidelines for isolation say:

  • Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 (regardless of their vaccination status): should isolate for a minimum of five days until symptoms subside.
  • After five days, if you are symptom-free (asymptomatic): should wear a mask around others for an additional five days.
  • After five days, if you still have symptoms: continue to isolate until your symptoms improve (or are fever-free for 24 hours.

The new CDC guidelines for quarantining say:

  • People who are unvaccinated or more than six months past their second dose and not yet boosted: should quarantine for five days, then wear a mask for an additional five days around others.
  • People who have received a booster dose: do not need to quarantine, but should wear a mask for ten days after exposure.

“The reason for the change is because some of the evidence is showing that people aren’t as infectious quite as long,” said Heltz. “All of these things are being constantly studied and reevaluated and so it is confusing. We will do our best to make sure that the messaging is as clear as possible. We’re all trying to to stay on top of it and understand it as well.”

Officials with the CDC said, “the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.”

Caudill admits these new guidelines mean Hoosiers can return to work or school even if they continue to test positive for COVID-19, so long as they are symptom-free after five days of isolation.

“[The CDC] is not saying that on day eight, you couldn’t transmit [the virus],” said Caudill. “But the information that we’ve gathered throughout this period of time has indicated that that’s not as likely.”

Heltz said those on the virtual meeting with the Indiana Department of Health were told the CDC plans to release another round of updated guidelines, specifically for schools and other congregate settings, in the coming weeks.

“[Schools] do fall into that special category,” said Heltz. “Which is why they do want extra guidance and extra mitigation steps.”