OSDH considering letting schools lead contact tracing efforts among students

Classrooms & COVID-19

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – School districts across Oklahoma may soon have the option to take the lead on contact tracing and contacting efforts regarding COVID-19 cases inside schools.

It’s an idea State Interim Epidemiologist Dr. Jared Taylor brought to the table Thursday at a special meeting of the State Board of Education.

Right now, it’s up to the health departments to investigated cases and contact parties who may have been exposed or need to quarantine.

But Dr. Taylor said the department has gotten complaints of being overly aggressive, and state school board members said they’ve gotten complaints.

“Some of the feedback that I’ve received, and I believe I speak for my colleagues as well, from superintendents and school districts has been the varying messages that we’re getting specifically in regards to quarantining, sometimes from even within the same county,” said state board member Brian Bobek.

Dr. Taylor said the state may start allowing schools to contact parents regarding possible exposures.

If that goes well, and once school staff have a better handle on the contact tracing process, they could begin conducting the case investigations.

“Where the schools can say, well, we know where they were at, we know as soon as the parents know, the parents are notifying us very quickly, we can basically start that investigation, ask all the questions that you’re asking, and get that done quicker than the health department can,” Dr. Taylor said.

He also explained that school staff should not share personal health information, including COVID-19 cases, across districts.

He said one important reason is it could spread misinformation and contribute to frustrations around a perceived lack of uniformity surrounding why some students were required to isolate while others were not.

“We’ve had football teams that call each other and say, hey, we’ve got a case, it was number 71, and he played this many plays or whatever.  A- that’s definitely information that should not be communicated in that manner, and B- when we come in and do that investigation, we do have more complete information, and sometimes straight up more accurate information than the school had and that changes the investigation,” Dr. Taylor said.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister also asked Dr. Taylor to underline the importance of isolation and quarantine measures inside schools.

“We hear from people talk about their kids well they’re healthy and why should they quarantine,” she said.

“We absolutely view quarantine as essential in terms of controlling this pandemic,” Dr. Taylor said.

He explained that there’s a difference between being exposed to one person who is sick and being exposed to several people who are sick, and that the latter can result in a person being more severely ill.

“It’s critical that we quarantine people because they can be shedding virus even before they have symptoms or in the absence of symptoms, and they can produce or contribute to that accumulation of exposure that will ultimately produce more severe disease even in children, and certainly transmit it within the school and disseminate it into the community,” Dr. Taylor said.

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