PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Valley school kids might miss fewer class days because of a new pilot program, changing the way schools handle quarantines when students are exposed to the virus.
Maricopa County Department of Public Health started a masked test-to-stay program with schools in the Madison district.
"I think it's important people know The White House made an announcement last week saying they are also going to introduce a test-to-stay model, and that's something the CDC has been working on for quite some time now," said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, Medical Director for Disease Control at MCDPH.
President Joe Biden announced a new strategy Thursday aimed at fighting a potential winter surge of COVID-19 without enacting unpopular lockdowns as the pandemic approaches its two-year mark.
Right now, Madison Heights Elementary and Madison #1 Middle School are the only campuses offering the optional alternative to current quarantine procedures.
"Currently, the CDC is recommending that all unvaccinated students who are identified as close contacts of a COVID case quarantine for a minimum of seven days," said Dr. Sunenshine.
Two weeks ago, the alternative procedure started at the Madison schools.
"What this does is it allows students who are unvaccinated but were wearing a mask at the time of the exposure to go ahead and remain in school during their quarantine period as long as they continue to wear a mask; they don't have any symptoms of COVID, and they periodically test negative for COVID," said Sunenshine.
Sunsenshine said fully vaccinated students do not need to quarantine at all.
Bridgette Blazek has kids in the district, and she believes students belong in the classroom. "When these kids get stuck at home, they're on their iPad or scrolling through YouTube," said Blazek.
Diane Allison thinks the pandemic is hurting education. "One of my grandkids had to stay back because he couldn't catch up, couldn't do the reading," said Allison.
The Scottsdale Unified School District and the Kyrene School District announced plans to make masks optional starting the first week of January.
The pilot program runs through December 17. After that, Sunenshine says they will evaluate how it worked. "We just want to make sure we're not seeing a lot more COVID spread once we implement this program," said Sunenshine.
She said if the program has good results, we could see more Maricopa County schools next year.
"I am glad that they're trying it, but my main issue with the policy as stated is it's only for children that are masked," said Blazek. "We have an opt-out at Madison, and some of the students aren't masked, and I don't see any reason why they shouldn't be able to participate in that policy as well."