TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In his first full day as the Florida Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo signed a new emergency rule for how Florida’s schools handle COVID-19 on campus.

The new emergency rule, 64DER21-15, covers the changes to the state’s emergency rules in school settings and addresses mitigation methods for COVID-19. The rule also dips into mask policies in Florida’s schools.

The big takeaway from the new rule, now in effect, is that if students are exposed to someone with COVID-19, and they remain asymptomatic, they can continue to go to school and school activities. Additionally, the order does not require that those who come into contact with a COVID-positive individual be tested for the virus themselves.

This means that, effectively, if a student is in contact with someone with COVID, if they don’t present symptoms, they won’t have to stay home and they won’t have to be tested. It is unclear how this will affect the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

New protocols, no symptoms, no testing

The new rule by the Surgeon General does go into some detail about updated protocols.

From the text of the order, the new procedures for schools focuses on encouraging mitigation, not enforcing it, as far as “routine cleaning of classrooms and high-traffic areas” and having students “practice routine handwashing throughout the day.”

The new emergency rule does say that students will stay home if they are sick, and allows schools to adopt mask requirements. Still, “the school must allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt the student out of wearing a face covering or mask at the parent or legal guardian’s sole discretion.”

The order also outlines what direct contact is, relating to exposure to COVID-19, defined as “cumulative exposure for at least 15 minutes, within 6 feet.”

For symptomatic or COVID-19 positive students, the new rule contains protocols for how to handle school activities.

“Schools will ensure students experiencing any symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or who have received a positive diagnostic test for COVID-19 shall not attend school, school-sponsored activities, or be on school property,” the rule says.

The protocols are effective for COVID-positive students until they have received a negative diagnostic test and is asymptomatic, or if it has been 10 days since the onset of symptoms or positive test results and that the student has not had a fever for 24 hours, and symptoms are improving.

Additionally, the student must receive written permission to return to school from a medical doctor licensed under chapter 458, an osteopathic physician licensed under chapter 459, or an advanced registered nurse practitioner licensed under chapter 464.

There are further protocols for students who are exposed to COVID-19.

Schools will have to allow parents or guardians the authority to choose how their students receive their education after being in contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive.

Should their student be exposed to COVID-19, parents will be able to choose if their student will continue to attend school, school-sponsored activities, or be on campus “without restrictions or disparate treatment” as long as they’re asymptomatic, or parents can choose to quarantine a student for no longer than seven days from when they were in direct contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive.

If the student becomes symptomatic after being exposed to COVID-19 by someone with the virus, or tests positive for the virus, they will be subject to protocols for COVID-19 positive students and prevented from being on campus, going to school events, or being in school until they test negative for COVID and is asymptomatic, or 10 days have passed since symptoms began and they have not had a fever for 24 hours.

Now signed by Dr. Ladapo as the State Surgeon General, the rule is immediately in effect.

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