Rapid Response Protocols
At this time, the New Mexico Public Education Department will not be requiring schools to close upon reaching four Rapid Responses in 14 days, but will instead work with schools to implement enhanced COVID-safe practices that will maintain in-person learning as much as possible. The department is evaluating updated guidance and processes with the state’s medical advisory team with the goal of ensuring students and school staff are safe and that schools can remain open.
The New Mexico Environment Department keeps track of Rapid Responses based on its own reports and those from other state agencies, including the Public Education Department. A Rapid Response is one or more positive cases at a school that were infectious while on campus. Previously, schools that reached the four-in-14 threshold were required to return to remote learning.
Close Contact Clarification
Individuals who are fully vaccinated and have been exposed to a COVID-positive person are exempt from quarantine requirements so long as they remain asymptomatic. If a fully vaccinated individual develops symptoms following the exposure, they must isolate and are strongly encouraged to be tested. The individual may provide proof of a negative PCR test in order to end their self-isolation. If new symptoms develop after the original test, the individual would need to re-isolate and be tested again in order to confirm a negative result and end isolation.
All PK-12 schools are shifting to universal mask mandate, regardless of individual vaccination status. Everyone in a school building, at an indoor school activity, or on school transportation is required to wear a mask, except at times dedicated to eating and drinking. Additionally, students are not required to wear masks while taking resting/sleeping breaks; students must maintain social distance and be supervised by staff while resting. Everyone is required to wear masks for indoor recess, for physical education classes, and for indoor athletic practices and competitions. Masks are recommended but not required while outdoors, except for staff (and their students) with close contact assignments.
When county transmission rates are substantial or high (i.e., when either % positive tests are 8% or higher or the daily case rate is 7.14 cases per day per 100,000 population or higher) everyone is required to wear masks inside school buildings, even when no student services are being provided. During times when no student services are being provided at a school, such as in-service professional development days, staff who have provided evidence of full vaccination are not required to wear masks inside, so long as county transmission rates are not substantial or high.
COVID-19 surveillance testing programs test unvaccinated asymptomatic individuals to discover undiagnosed cases and to better understand the rate of infection in the community. Staff and students who provide evidence of COVID-19 vaccination and those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days are not included in surveillance testing.
Districts and charter schools must ensure that any faculty and staff who have not provided evidence of COVID-19 vaccination and work onsite participate in COVID-19 testing each week that student services are provided at school. That is, the requirement is increased to 100% weekly testing for these individuals.
Schools are required to provide student surveillance testing programs to all unvaccinated students on a voluntary basis. In alignment with CDC guidance, those who participate in athletics and other extra-curricular activities are strongly encouraged to participate in surveillance testing. Schools have a weekly goal of testing 25% of unvaccinated students.
Which Masks Are OK?
Some masks work better than others to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Here’s a quick tip from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to check the safety of any mask: Hold it up to a bright light source. It should block the light. Additionally, avoid masks with exhalation valves or vents and those made of mesh or webbed materials. We are revising our mask guidance to align with the governor’s announcement today and will notify you as soon as the new toolkit is completed. Meanwhile, detailed information on masks can found on the CDC website.
Close Contacts for Students
When students are not wearing masks (because they are outside or eating), and are within 6 feet of each other for 15 minutes or more during a 24-hour period they are considered close contacts (regardless of being outdoors). When students are masked and other COVID-Safe Practices are implemented, then the close contact distance is within 3 feet instead of 6 feet.
At-Home Rapid Tests
At-home rapid COVID tests should not be used for surveillance testing. Students and staff members who test positive with an at-home rapid COVID test kit need to quarantine, and the school should notify close contacts of exposure. However, there is no need to report such a case to PED, and those individuals should not be included as surveillance test numbers. This guidance does not apply to VAULT testing, which is PCR testing. It is recommended that those who have a positive at-home rapid test confirm the result with a test performed by a healthcare provider. A negative PCR test with a sample collected within 48 hours of the positive at-home rapid COVID test would negate the positive test and would not require continued self-isolation or quarantine based off of the at-home rapid COVID test.