Some parents and even a local doctor are questioning Monroe County schools’ and CDC guidelines after two starting football players were forced to quarantine two weeks for being in a classroom with masks near a classmate who tested positive for COVID-19.
“Can you find a time in history where healthy people were forced to mass quarantine?” asked Dr. Billy Taunton of Forsyth, rhetorically, when asked about the rule.
Two football players and a cheerleader were pulled out of class on Friday and told they had to leave school and couldn’t participate in that night’s season opener at McDonough. Parents said the students were devastated, adding that after six months of quarantine, working out and practicing football in anticipation of the season opener had been the thing keeping their kids hopeful and motivated.
The school system is forcing the two starting MP players, senior linebacker Andrew Lackley and junior center Austin Starr, and cheerleader Kaylee Gordon, to quarantine for two weeks. Then the football players will be forced to have five more days of inactivity due to the Georgia High School Association’s “heat acclimation” rule. That means they’ll miss the first three games, 30 percent of the season. The school told them that a classmate in their pre-calculus class had tested positive for COVID. They had only been around the female student for one class, the first day on Tuesday, Sept. 8. CDC guidelines say that anyone within 6 feet of someone who tests positive for more than 15 minutes should quarantine for 14 days. Parents asked the school to measure how far their students’ desks were from her desk. The school said the desks were 5 feet, 5 inches away. Parents asked how the system could delay the opening of school to prepare and yet still had desks that close to each other in a class that only had 14 students.
Superintendent Mike Hickman said the school system has been clear with everyone all along that a six-foot radius in all classrooms and on the bus is not feasible.
“School administrators and teachers are doing the very best they can with maximizing the spaces provided in each class, on the bus, and in other areas of the school,” said Hickman.
All students were wearing masks, but the Monroe County Health Department told parents that didn’t matter.
“What’s the point in me wearing my mask to school if all that matters is that I was 5 foot and some inches away from somebody who has COVID and was not showing symptoms in a class where we all have masks on, and the only interaction is the teacher talking?” Austin Starr posted on his Facebook page. “Quarantine is for sick people, not for keeping me away from the game I love for 2-3 weeks. So, according to the school system, a tape measure means more than a mask. I’ll have a Fat Max measuring tape on my belt when I come back in 2 weeks.”
School board member Greg Head responded with his support.
“The guidelines are ridiculous I know. I wish I could do more for you,” said Head. “Better decisions need to be made by our administration.”
But school officials say they are only following CDC guidelines. The school system reports having five positive COVID tests among its 4,000 students, but said it has 150 non-COVID students in quarantine for being "exposed".
Lackley’s father, Steve Lackley, also wondered why school administrators had desks 5 feet apart and not 6.
“They brag on social media how hard they have been working and that they have done this amazing job preparing for students to return. But then on the first day, these desks are five feet apart?” wondered Lackley. “If they had been one more foot apart, and they had plenty of room, my son could be playing the game he loves instead of stuck at home. He busted his rear all summer to play football and then they do this. That doesn’t make sense.”
Lackley said his son is devastated.
“He went to school for four days after he was exposed, never felt sick and now he’s told he can’t come back? These are not state laws, these are guidelines and recommendations, and the school system needs to have the guts to say that maybe it’s not smart to quarantine healthy kids. Maybe Monroe County should develop guidelines that work for our parents and students, and not what some government bureaucrat in Atlanta recommends who never sees COVID patients and doesn’t practice medicine.”
It’s not the first time the school has imposed quarantine on healthy athletes. The softball and volleyball teams have all had 2-week shutdowns in recent weeks due to a single positive COVID test.
Rick Cantrell of Forsyth, whose daughter is enduring a two-week quarantine due to a lone positive, asymptomatic test on the Mary Persons softball team, said he doesn’t understand why teenagers without symptoms are running to get tested.
And he said there’s no set of proven data that quarantines of healthy people help contain the virus. He said if as a parent he knows the risks and sends his child to school, he doesn’t see why the school would veto that and send his child home. Cantrell said his daughter, a senior, misses school terribly, including the pep rallies and the fun, social aspects of school.
“If I choose to send my children to school and to softball, then I’m taking the liability of putting them in that situation. I don’t consider that to be in harm’s way. So why are you sending them back home? It doesn’t make sense. Everybody’s worried we’re gonna hurt someone’s feeling or get sued. It’s ridiculous. It’s like we’re running scared.”
Taunton said government agencies like the CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci address public health, which is very different than giving medical advice for individual persons. “Although the school is following current CDC guidelines, with a 99.8 percent survival rate, quarantine of asymptomatic contacts within a low-risk population seems to defy everything we know about medicine, virology and immunology. Viruses run their course and it is almost impossible to ‘stop the spread’.”
Taunton said such policies come with a tremendous cost. He noted a new study that 25 percent of those under the age of 25 have considered suicide during the shutdown. “Depression from quarantine isolation is real,” said Taunton, “and far more deadly than this virus in the low risk population.”
Taunton noted that most medical facilities are not testing asymptomatic individuals anymore. He also noted that the CDC at one point did not recommend COVID testing just because someone was exposed, but only if they had symptoms. Although the current guidelines state otherwise, Taunton said it is hard to give patient parameters when the rules are constantly changing and the recommendations on distancing with and without a mask don’t change the definition of an exposure.
Taunton said he’s not minimizing COVID, saying it’s a threat to the elderly, immuno-compromised, obese and those with co-morbidities.
“We know who the critical people are,” said Taunton. “I think my biggest conundrum is we’re not following medical knowledge, we’re following political whims. You can divide the medical advice on your political beliefs and that is frightening.”
As an example Taunton cites the attacks on hydroxychloroquine. Taunton said at first he thought President Trump was too optimistic about its usefulness for COVID patients.
“I was like ’slow your roll’” said Taunton.
But Taunton said since then studies have come out confirming it helps, and he’s prescribed it to his COVID patients with a Z pack and Zinc and had very good results.
“It appears to be saving people’s lives in the early disease, but not late,” said Taunton. “Once you go to the hospital, it doesn’t do very good. But in the early phase of COVID it is very good. I changed my mind.”
Taunton said he doesn’t think asymptomatic people who test positive should be treated the same as those with symptoms.
“No symptoms, no infection, no spread,” said Taunton. “If you were exposed to the flu but had no symptoms, would you get tested? No. You’re not gonna waste your time.”
Taunton reiterated that he’s not throwing caution to the wind.
“People with pre-existing conditions, those people certainly need to be more cautious,” said Taunton.
“Hydroxychloroquine and zinc and z pack if used early in the process are almost 100 percent curative,” said Taunton. “Do not fear getting sick. If you have symptoms you can be treated and your risk of dying is microscopic. “
Taunted noted that the CDC changes its guidelines frequently so they should not be treated as gospel.
“What are we expecting to gain from this quarantine if the person is not sick?” asked Taunton. “I’m not sure what we’re attempting to accomplish. We are living in a world of fear unfounded. The rules do not follow any semblance of medical knowledge, and unnecessary panic is a consequence. The anxiety the country is suffering around this is unsettling.”
Asked for a response, superintendent Dr. Mike Hickman released this statement: “The school system follows the Georgia Department of Health guidelines for contact tracing. The school system also communicates with the local Monroe County Health Department when cases, issues, or questions arise. The safety protocols for MCS that were shared with parents, students, staff, the Board of Education, the newspaper, and the community closely follow the state’s guidelines. To date, they have been applied consistently as needed whether involving students, staff, transportation or athletics. To my knowledge, there is not a public school system in the state that is not using the state’s guidance with regard to positive cases and exposures. Not following the guidelines could jeopardize safety and liability issues for the district and could potentially have repercussions from GHSA regarding player participation and team competition rules.”