Summit school and county officials discuss outbreak protocol ahead of new school year
FRISCO — At a joint meeting of the Summit School District Board of Education and the Summit Board of County Commissioners on Monday, officials discussed contact tracing and quarantine plans for the upcoming school year.
Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland cautioned that outbreaks in schools are going to be inevitable once they open.
“It’s unrealistic to think that we can create a system with enough safeguards in place to prevent outbreaks,” Wineland said. “But so far, the evidence suggests — that with the changes in the school’s daily routines and implementing these safety guards — that the benefits of attending school seem to outweigh the risk at least where our infection rates remain low, which is the case here in Summit County.”
Wineland explained that contact tracing will be conducted in the schools to control the spread of the disease by notifying people who might have been exposed. When a positive case is identified, the contact tracing team will connect with that person or their guardian to conduct an in-depth investigative interview. Wineland said the team will make sure families get the support they need, such as food, housing and behavioral health resources so that quarantine and isolation guidance can be followed.
If a staff member or student tests positive, Wineland said the whole cohort will be asked to quarantine while investigations are conducted. During this process, probable cases also will be identified, Wineland said. A case is determined probable when a person develops known COVID-19 symptoms after having close contact with a positive case.
As for potential challenges, Wineland said she is concerned about the flu season overlapping with COVID-19 as well as getting kids to stay home when they’re sick. She said there have been cases where isolation and quarantine is difficult because of a housing situation. In these cases, the county has moved the sick individual to other housing where they can safely isolate. Wineland said the county will continue to follow this path and is working with industry partners to incentivize workers to stay home when they’re sick.
“One of the biggest challenges I see working with the school is just that we need to quickly identify folks,” Wineland said. “We need to make sure that we have a high uptake of flu vaccine.”
Wineland said the school district’s cohort schedule, which applies to students in sixth through 12th grades, will help control outbreaks by allowing two days of at-home learning or a weekend between each in-person day. Because people typically are infectious two days before showing symptoms of COVID-19, the alternating schedule should help prevent the spread of the virus.
Superintendent Marion Smith Jr. said the interest in health and safety for all parties involved will serve as a compass going forward and that decisions about safety and what would be developmentally appropriate for students are based on current data.
Following the announcement last week about this year’s “return to learn” plan — which includes delayed start dates and a mixture of in-person and online learning for students in all grade levels — Smith shared some of the feedback he has received.
He said families are more concerned about the uncertainty of the pandemic than safety plans and procedures.
“The initial conversations that I’m having with family members or even staff members is … ‘If we were not in COVID, would we still want to move forward with the options or the different learning models that we have?'” Smith said.
“… What I’m holding onto is that we are in the business of learning and teaching,” Smith said. “And when I look at data over the last five to 10 years across our school district … our data reveals that we are not meeting the needs of all of our scholars at all of those levels, and so how can we create learning opportunities that may position ourselves to create those entry points for all of our different scholars to be able to learn?”
Smith pointed out that not everyone learns best in a classroom setting and that the school district needs to make sure it provides equitable learning opportunities regardless of the pandemic.
- Sixth through 12th grade will start Aug. 26 with in-person learning two days per week and alternating schedules for each cohort. The other three days will be online learning.
- First through fifth grade will start Aug. 27 with in-person days on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The students will be online on Wednesdays.
- Pre-K and kindergarten will start Aug. 31 with four in-person days a week. Kindergarten will be in person every day but Wednesdays, when the students will be doing online learning at home. Pre-K student schedules will vary.
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