RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Governor Glenn Youngkin came out with new COVID-19 guidelines for K-12 schools, daycares and camps this week.

The new advisory loosens quarantine rules and clarifies masking recommendations, especially for pre-schools.

“As Virginians continue to return to the office and social settings, the pandemic is disrupting workplaces and family life when entire child care facilities, camps and classrooms shutter in response to as few as two cases,” Youngkin said in a statement on Thursday. “Today marks a shift in my administration’s recommendations to optional quarantine for exposure to COVID-19 in child care and school settings as the severity of the disease decreases.”

The state guidelines say those who show coronavirus symptoms or test positive should still follow recommendations for isolation and masking.

However, those exposed to COVID-19 that aren’t showing symptoms, no longer have to quarantine.

That falls short of CDC recommendations, which advise the unvaccinated and those who are not fully vaccinated to quarantine for at least five full days after exposure. Those who are fully vaccinated are already exempt from quarantining in these circumstances.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, a person is exposed if they have been within six feet of someone with COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more over a day, or if they have direct contact with the person’s “respiratory secretions.”

Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) said she pushed for the change after hearing from frustrated parents about excessive classroom closures that were causing work disruptions.

Dunnavant said, especially at pre-schools, quarantine and masking policies have been inconsistent.

“The lack of structure around that age group provided a situation for an enormous amount of stress, chaos and variability,” Dunnavant said. “We cannot wait for the CDC to make good decisions on every issue. We have had problems with their timeliness in the past.” 

Dunnavant sponsored a law that generally made masking in schools optional earlier this year.

But even after the law was implemented, Dunnavant said some pre-schools continued to require face coverings because they weren’t sure if the change applied to them. She said some feared they would lose their license to operate due to the uncertainty.

The updated policy specifies that, in general, masks are “not routinely recommended in these
settings, indoors or outdoors, except during isolation.”

That also sets lower standards than the CDC, which still recommends mask-wearing indoors in areas of high transmission.

The state policy appears to leave flexibility for schools and daycares to set stricter recommendations if needed.

If a school or facility is experiencing an outbreak that “has been difficult to control or is unusual in size or scope,” the guidelines say regional and local epidemiologists may recommend “traditional quarantine and isolation standards be applied until the situation is stabilized.”

Even so, parents like Tara FitzPatrick are concerned about the shift. She said her 4-year-old son just got a COVID-19 vaccine this week but he won’t be fully vaccinated until the end of September.

“I think the policy is really frustrating,” FitzPatrick said. “We all want to get back to normal but we can’t really force getting back to normal.”

FitzPatrick said she has friends that have had trouble getting back into the workforce because of regular classroom closures. She has struggled with disruptions as well but she thinks the sacrifice is worth it.

“I think the message would be that this isn’t a very family-friendly perspective to take. It is for sure going to lead to increased spread of the virus,” FitzPatrick said.

The Virginia Department of Health didn’t agree to an interview on Friday.