Nebraska has joined a handful of other states in allowing their school teachers to continue working with students after exposure to the coronavirus as long as they aren’t showing symptoms and do not test positive.
Some counties in Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina paved the way for others in declaring their educators “essential” workers during the pandemic, along with health care professionals, grocery store employees and law enforcement.
The White House officially added teachers and all those with jobs in education including bus drivers, librarians and cafeteria workers to their list of “essential critical infrastructure workers” on Aug. 18 when the Department of Homeland Security released updated guidance.
Vice President Mike Pence told Fox Business the update is not a mandate but rather a way to ensure teachers have what they need to be safe.
“What that is, is when you’re declared an essential it means you’re going to be prioritized for things like PPE and support,” Pence told the outlet. “But we want to get our kids back to school but we also want our teachers to know that we’re going to make the resources available so that their schools can be a safe environment.”
The update was the Trump administration’s latest move to push state’s toward in-person learning — a debate that has rattled educators, politicians and parents as research continues to reveal children and young adults are significant spreaders of COVID-19.
Although ruling differs among states, the general idea is that a teacher who has had close contact with a coronavirus-positive individual or a symptomatic person pending test results but is not showing symptoms themselves may continue working — if deemed appropriate by their local health department.
Teachers in Nebraska who have been exposed must wear a face mask for at least 14 days following exposure, practice social distancing and self-monitor for symptoms twice daily, according to an email sent to McClatchy News by David Jespersen, spokesman for Nebraska’s Department of Education.
“The new order does not change quarantining mandates for positive tests,” Jespersen wrote. “This guidance is to allow health districts and school districts to have a little more flexibility in determining who may have had contact with a positive case and whether or not it is safe for them to continue to work or need to be quarantined as well.”
Back in May, teachers with a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus, either because of age or underlying health conditions, said in a survey that they wouldn’t feel safe returning to school without a vaccine, McClatchy News previously reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines individuals at “high-risk” for COVID-19 as anyone older than 65 or those of any age with underlying medical issues, including asthma and serious heart conditions or who are otherwise immunocompromised.
Maddie Fennell, executive director of the Nebraska State Education Association, told The Lincoln Journal Star that the new directive in her state is a dangerous move in the wrong direction.
“What it says to teachers is teach until you drop,” Fennell told the outlet. “This is a major change to quarantine protocol. This is going to put children, teachers and families at risk.”
This same flexibility has been applied to workers in health care facilities such as nursing homes.
The CDC says their “last resort” suggestions that give coronavirus-positive employees the OK to work with the elderly exist in the event of staff shortages, which they say is likely to occur during the pandemic as infections rise and “is essential to providing a safe work environment for [health care providers] and safe patient care,” McClatchy News previously reported.