Schools that opt to test unvaccinated students exposed to COVID-19 in the classroom rather than forcing them to stay home in 10-day quarantines aren't necessarily risking an outbreak, the CDC said Friday.
The announcement is according to two new studies released by the CDC that looked at Los Angeles County, California, and Lake County, Illinois.
One cautionary note is that the data was collected before the U.S. detected the omicron variant.
Schools in both counties opted for a practice called "test-to-stay," or TTS, which allows a child or staff member exposed in the classroom to test in lieu of quarantining.
To stay in school, the exposed person had to remain asymptomatic and continue to wear a mask.
"Preliminary data from (LA County) suggest that a school-based TTS strategy in a large and diverse county did not increase school transmission risk," according to the LA study. "Schools might consider TTS as an option for keeping quarantined students in school to continue in-person learning."
The second study looked at 90 schools in Lake County, Illinois. Out of more than 1,035 people deemed "close contacts" to a COVID exposure, 16 students turned out to eventually test positive - a 1.5% chance.
The county estimates it saved more than 8,100 school hours by allowing people to stay in school despite exposure.
The downside, according to the study, was that it takes resources many schools don't have.
The practice requires kids and staff to stay masked whenever they are closer than 6 feet apart.
"Low-resource schools might lack space for physical distancing during lunch, resulting in unmasked exposures within 6 feet, which would disqualify students from TTS eligibility, necessitating home quarantine," the Illinois study notes.