COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Contact tracing and quarantining procedures will be a central piece to how students and facility head back to the classroom safely in the fall.
Districts are working on plans that will cover the rules on what symptoms mean students need to go home and in what situations a student or facility member will have to quarantine for at least 10 days.
A few districts, such as Richland Two and Lexington One, said that every positive case creates a domino effect in schools because every student who tests positive will have to quarantine for at least 10 days. Every student or teacher who has been in close contact with that student will also have to quarantine. DHEC defines close contact as any person who has been within 6 feet of a positive case for 15 minutes or more.
District officials said, because of this, even a small outbreak in schools is a daunting prospect.
“It just gets more and more confusing in how we have to look at all the moving parts,” Dawn MacAdams, the Richland Two Health Services Coordinator, said.
MacAdams said for their elementary classes, who stay together most of the day, it might only involve quarantining a few other students, but for middle and high school students, the number of close contacts could go up.
“Those students may have up to seven different classes and those students are intermingling all day,” MacAdams said.
Dr. Greg Little, the superintendent for Lexington One, said for every high school student that tests positive, they will most likely have to quarantine between 20 to 30 other students.
“Even if 1% of them, that’s 20 students, tests positive for the coronavirus, that would mean we would have to quarantine between 400 to 600 students,” Little said.
He said, as a superintendent and parent, he worries about the disruption in learning that causes.
“I have a rising senior in high school. Well, when she goes into school, I don’t want to have her go to school for one week and have her out for two weeks, then put her back for one week, and pull her out again for two weeks depending on how the coronavirus is working,” Little said.
It’s a scenario teachers are also worried about.
“For me as a teacher, because obviously, I don’t want to be away from my kids but also worry about what that does for children as the kind of back-and-forth again,” Tiffany Palmatier, a Richland Two kindergarten teacher, said.
Little said the impact of quarantine is one reason they chose a hybrid model with alternating days for returning to school to maximize social distancing.
“But quarantine is going to be a tremendous challenge so again its easy to talk about five days a week, but it’s really a better approach to make sure we take our time. we take measures, responsible, and safe steps to make five days a week a reality,” Little said.
Another big piece of the quarantining procedures at school is going to be if a student’s family member tests positive. MacAdams said that student will have to quarantine for the time period their family member has the virus and 14 days afterward for a total of at least 24 days.
She said, as far as a student or staff member exhibiting symptoms, if a student has a fever, shortness of breath, worsening cough, or loss of taste and smell, they will need to go home and they won’t be able to return to school until they’ve tested negative for COVID-19, the symptoms have been attributed to another sickness, or they have quarantined.