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Questions about data cited in Oklahoma's new school quarantine policy

Posted at 10:41 PM, Jan 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-15 11:49:49-05

TULSA, Okla. — Just two days after Governor Kevin Stitt announced new quarantine guidelines for schools, there are some questions about the data he cited.

READ MORE: Gov. Stitt announces new COVID-19 guidelines for schools in Oklahoma

An effort to get students back in the classroom is now raising questions and concerns among educators and doctors.

The state's new policy said Oklahoma schools following safety protocols and enforcing masks won't have to quarantine after a potential exposure as long as the student or teacher isn't showing symptoms.

Gov. Stitt cited a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics as part of his argument that all schools should be open to students. The study was done in 11 North Carolina school districts last fall and found extremely limited secondary transmission of COVID in schools in the first nine weeks.

“That means 99.96 percent of the students and staff they studied, did not catch COVID at school," Stitt said at a press conference Tuesday.

However, Dr. Dwight Sublett, president of the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said while it's a well-done study, there are too many differences between the states for the study to be applied here.

According to the Oklahoma AAP, at the time of the study, the North Carolina test positivity rate was six percent and in Oklahoma it is currently 23 percent.

"We've had a massive increase in the number of cases," Dr. Sublett said. "So we know that when the number of cases in the community goes up, even if you have good control in the classroom, it will still, in the school, in the classrooms, is going to rise along with that."

North Carolina also has a statewide mask mandate and other, stricter, distancing guidelines. Because of this, Dr. Sublett said if schools here want students in-person, mitigation efforts must be done at a high-level. Pediatricians also recommend sticking with the CDC quarantine guidelines.

"If we don't know who in the classroom is carriers of the conditions, should the case arise, then there could be further spread because, as we know, asymptomatic individuals can be carriers of this virus," Sublett said.

Bixby Public Schools is one of many in Green Country that is not planning to implement the new quarantine policy.

READ MORE: Green Country school districts react to new quarantine guidelines

All Bixby students are in-person this week. Next week, high school students will be in distance learning and then back in the building the following week.

Superintendent Rob Miller said it's inevitable that quarantine and isolation will happen over the next several months.

"I mean, we applaud the intent. We all have the shared desire to have our kids in school and to stay in school," Miller said. "But at the same time, the rational, the data to support that cannot be any stronger the other way because our case numbers are higher than ever. Our hospitalizations rates. Fatality rates."

Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters released this statement:

"Governor Stitt and I have heard from parents and teachers from across Oklahoma who are concerned with students struggling to learn from home and want all students to have the option to go to school in person. The recent changes to OSDH guidance for schools were driven by data from multiple sources, developed by public health experts and similar to policies that are safely in place in multiple states. This shouldn’t be political – we need to put our students first and allow them the choice to come back to their classrooms.”
Ryan Walters, Oklahoma Secretary of Education

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