The school district in Gov. Phil Murphy's hometown made headlines this week by ignoring state health rules requiring strict quarantining of students even if they test negative. But now the CDC has come out with a new recommendation that aligns with what Middletown is doing.

The Middletown Board of Education approved a policy Monday that made quarantining optional for students who have close contact with a COVID-positive person.

The CDC and the state Department of Health had been recommending 14 days of staying home even if the student tested negative.

The district's approach caused a conflagration among local officials when David A. Henry, health officer for the Monmouth County Regional Health Commission, called the district's policy a "recipe for disaster" given the unknown effect of the Omicron variant.

“The change in quarantine policy at the Middletown Board of Education is not in the interest of community/public health. I do not recommend the policy," Henry said in a retweet of an NJ.com report about Middletown.

The tweet, in turn, drew the ire of Middletown Mayor Tony Perry.

"Since the MCRHC prefers to comment on policies on social media and call reporters rather than the policymakers, I guess I can let them know on social media that Middletown will not be renewing its partnership since it isn’t in the best interest of our residents," Perry said.

The commission provides health services for 18 municipalities in Monmouth County.

CDC and New Jersey guidance

The CDC on Friday changed its policy to "test to stay," which mirrors the policy adopted by Middletown, allowing students who test negative after a close contact to remain in classrooms.

“Test-to-stay is an encouraging public health practice to help keep our children in school,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Friday.

Walensky said that either a test-to-stay or full quarantining are good options.

When asked by New Jersey 101.5 about the new CDC policy, Henry said the commission would follow guidance from the state.

"We follow all NJDOH guidance. When NJDOH changes, we will follow their modifications," Henry said.

The state Department of Health also "aligned" its guidance on Friday with the CDC while still favoring the full two-week quarantine.

“While a 14-day quarantine period is optimal, the CDC and NJ Department of Health recognizes the value of shortening quarantine in certain circumstances,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said in a statement.

“Vaccination continues to provide the best protection against COVID-19, preventing transmission in school, and eliminating the need to quarantine following an exposure. I recommend that all parents to talk to their child’s health care provider about the COVID-19 vaccine and urge school personnel to seek vaccination and boosters as soon as possible.”

Jackson School District Superintendent of Schools Nicole Pormilli has been working with the Ocean County Health Department to adopt a test-to-stay policy not dependent on regional COVID activity levels. She said the district will adopt the new state guidelines.

"These revised timeframes help healthy students get back into school faster, which is what we all want,'' Pormilli said. "Being in school is vital to a student's growth - academically, socially and emotionally. It is so important.''

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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