Responding to Exposures

01-24-2021Nurse's LetterShannon David, RN, NCSN

Friday marked the 100th day of school – in “dog days” that would be 700 days! For many, this was the week that brought the current pandemic too close for comfort. For the first time, since reopening in August, we encountered situations where persons who tested positive for COVID may have been on campus during what could be an infectious period. Thus, in accordance with our policy of community notification, we began and ended the week sending out notifications of two separate, unrelated, COVID positive cases. This is unsettling for the entire community and particularly troubling for those who were identified as “close contacts”.

Many have asked how exactly the school gets notified of a positive case and what protocols are followed once that happens. As a strong testament to the strength of our “Home & School” partnership, in all cases, we have received notification through parents. “Self reporting”, as soon as possible, is so important because it gives the school the opportunity to respond quickly, when necessary. Critical aspects of our infection control strategies are the timely identification and timely quarantine of close contacts. By asking people who might have been exposed and might be infected to stay away from others until enough time has passed to be sure they don’t have COVID, the transmission of the virus to other community members is prevented. The Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) is the source for guidance in these matters (Quarantine Guidelines for Close Contacts).

This past week, immediately, upon receiving notification of each positive case, the protocol established by MCDPH was implemented. This 11-page document is an extensive checklist that provides the framework for responding to known exposures.  Following the isolation of the COVID positive person, detailed contact tracing is done. It is important to note that each one of the known positive cases in our community can be traced to an initial contact outside of school.

In terms of identifying which students are considered close contacts at school: Attendance records, arrival time logs, before school assigned seating, class seating charts, lunch seating charts, class activities, field assignments, as well as the input of teachers and staff who are on campus and direct witnesses to any contact to determine incidents and levels of contact, are all considered.  When the close contacts, or the parent/guardian of a minor, are notified of the need to quarantine, no information regarding the identity of the COVID positive person is released. Maintaining the privacy of the person who has tested COVID positive is not only a legal requirement, but is also meant to shield the person from undue negative repercussions. Because we continue to adhere to the actions set forth in our “Smart, Healthy & Holy” Reopening Plan for Phase 1, it has not been necessary to quarantine entire classrooms, buildings or close the school.

To date, we are not aware of any secondary transmission of the virus at school. This supports the increasing scientific and public health evidence that elementary schools are not major sources of community spread for this virus. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, early modeling suggests that closing schools reduced community transmission less than other social distancing interventions. Because of the significant risks to child well-being, The WHO recommends that schools should only close when there is no alternative (What We Know About COVID-19 Transmission in Schools). With more than half the school year behind us, we can take great joy in seeing what we have done, thus far. By working together, “Home & School”, we have provided, and are continuing to provide, a safe environment in which our children can learn and grow. We may be in the “dog days” of this pandemic, but let’s resist the impulse to “bark”, “snap” or “bite” at one another and instead strive to strengthen one another for what’s ahead by continuing to practice those things that make us “Smart, Healthy & Holy”. 

“Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset”-St. Frances de Sales (January 24).

St. Frances de Sales, pray for us!