PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Health has updated its COVID guidance for K-12 schools to include shorter isolation and quarantine lengths, a new “monitor-to-stay” protocol and remove a requirement for asymptomatic close contacts to get a negative test.

The new guidance means vaccinated students and staff who are “close contacts” of a COVID case, but don’t have symptoms, will be able to remain in school and monitor for symptoms rather than quarantining at home.

Unvaccinated students and staff who are exposed to COVID will still need to quarantine while outside of school, but can continue to attend class in person while monitoring for symptoms.

Students and staff with any symptoms — no matter how mild — should still stay home and get a COVID test, Dr. Philip Chan told reporters Thursday afternoon in a briefing about the new guidance.

“It is really, really, really critical, as part of this approach, to monitor for symptoms and no matter how mild your symptoms are, don’t go to school (and) get tested,” Dr. Chan said.

For those who do test positive for COVID-19, the isolation period is now five days, with a return to school on the sixth day with conditions.

“They may return to school on day six if they don’t have any symptoms or if the symptoms are improving, or if they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours,” said Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green.

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The new monitor-to-stay protocol replaces the previous test-to-stay concept, which allowed students exposed to COVID to stay in school as long as they test negative.

“Our administration has been committed (to) keeping kids in the classes where they’re the safest, where they can learn the best,” said Infante-Green.

Dr. Chan acknowledged that the lack of availability of tests contributed to the shift in guidance.

“That is part of the reason,” he said. “We aren’t seeing significant disease in kids, which is certainly reassuring.”

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R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said school districts can choose to have stricter guidance than the state is requiring.

The new rules have the potential to alleviate the staffing shortage caused by quarantining staff members, though the ultra-contagious omicron variant could result in more COVID case isolations.

The new guidance goes into effect Jan. 10.