Who is considered a ‘close contact’ at school?

SPOKANE, Wash. — While students across the Inland Northwest are slowly phasing their way back to their classroom desks, school districts are coming up with their own ways of tracking COVID-19.

Many parents are asking about what happens if their child goes back to school then a student in my child’s class gets COVID-19. Will they have to go back to remote learning?

It depends if your child is considered a “close contact” to the student with COVID-19 and what else happened that day. This is all determined through your child’s school’s contact tracing.

For example, in Mead School District, if a student tests positive for COVID-19, the school district would examine their classroom first to check close contacts. That means the students who sit at the desks next to them would need to quarantine, as well as the students to their diagonal.

For one student with COVID-19 in a Mead school, they have the potential of putting at least eight other students into quarantine, if that classroom was full.

For Spokane Public Schools and Central Valley School District, they define close contact as ‘anyone within six feet for at least 15 minutes.’ In a standard classroom setting with assigned seating, if a student who tests positive for COVID-19 is sitting in the back corner of a classroom, then the student next to them, in front of them, and to the diagonal would have to quarantine.


This is because that student would’ve been within six feet of them for more than 15 minutes.


But then you have other factors that could also qualify other people as close contacts. For example, if a teacher works with the student who tests positive for COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes, then works with other children, then contact tracing may lead to more close contacts. Or if the student with COVID-19 plays on the playground with other kids, that would also lead to more close contacts than the ones in the classroom.

For Spokane Public Schools, if there is no assigned seating in a classroom then everyone who shared that classroom will have to quarantine for two weeks.

Then you have situations outside of school, like riding the bus. Here, Spokane and Mead schools follow the same protocol.


If a student with COVID-19 sitting on a school bus, that would mean anyone sitting with them, anyone sitting two rows up, one row back, and all three rows parallel to them would have to quarantine as well.


Part of the reason why it’s easier for elementary school students to go back to in-person learning first is because of the amount of exposure to others. One student in elementary school with COVID-19 has the potential to expose up to eight students in one classroom, since they only have one teacher.


Though, middle and high school students have six classes in one school day. This means if a secondary student has COVID-19, they have the potential of exposing up to 48 students in one day, not including lunch or taking the bus.

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