State’s new COVID-19 contact tracing rules welcomed by local schools

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Jan. 31 – Recent relaxation of COVID-19 contact tracing requirements by state health officials is welcomed by area school officials, but the new procedures are still being formulated by some leaders local schools as to how they will be applied to their schools.

Others, like Madison and Fairfield Schools and many others, quickly adopted the new, more lenient guidelines.

Last week, the Ohio Department of Health released the new contact tracing procedures for infected students and school staff.

The ODH authorizes local health departments and schools to stop universal contact tracing for COVID-19, according to a memo from director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff.

“The rapid spread of the omicron variant and its rapid clinical course have made universal contact tracing, case investigation and exposure notification impossible when combined with newly reduced timelines for quarantine and isolation. “, wrote Vanderhoff.

It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not a drastic solution for school staff who are experiencing historic shortages and burnout due to the added responsibilities imposed by the pandemic, said Ed Theroux, superintendent of schools. Talawanda.

“The amount of work our nurses, office staff – and others – have had to do during the pandemic to collect accurate data has been very difficult to manage. Our employees do more than one job each day due to of the number of quarantines, so the changes will ease the stress a bit,” Theroux said.

“That said, the pandemic still creates a lot of burdens for our students, staff and families and we look forward to an end to the pandemic or a comprehensive plan from our state or national government to better manage this crisis. Schools public authorities have had to bear much of the burden during this time,” he said.

ODH officials are now directing local health departments to move to a cluster- or outbreak-based model and prioritize people in high-risk residential settings like nursing homes and prisons, or clusters of cases related to new variants.

Vanderhoff said local schools can also pause universal contact tracing. But he said they should continue to follow the ‘Mask to stay, test to play’ policy.

Madison Schools Superintendent Jeff Staggs issued a statement to parents of students shortly after the state announced the rapid adoption of the new rules.

“After reviewing the new guidelines established by the ODH, Madison will discontinue contact tracing unless directed otherwise by the Butler County Health Department.”

Staggs’ statement said Madison will continue to “allow asymptomatic students to attend school while wearing a mask if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.”

Other school districts in the area have seen officials still weighing state orders as to what they will mean specifically for their schools.

Mike Wright, associate superintendent of Hamilton schools, told the district school board Thursday night at its meeting that “what we think this is going to do is minimize the amount of contact tracing that we will have to do in the schools”.

“There are a few questions we needed answered based on these latest guidelines, but as soon as we have these answered, we will likely post updated guidelines to our schools, administrators and families on what it means moving forward,” Wright said. .

Wright cited a recent example of the time-consuming complexity of tracing student contacts at Hamilton High School.

“One day we had 18 positive cases (COVID-19) from students. You take those 18 positive cases times seven lessons a day for each child and take a look at the seating plans in each of those classrooms. class – you’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of phone calls and notifications.”

School nurses and other school staff “did this (notifications) almost from when they arrived at school until they left,” Wright said.

All 10,000 students at Fairfield Schools will see the new rules passed today, district officials announced Friday evening.

“As we make this transition on Monday, it is essential that parents/guardians monitor their children for symptoms and keep them home if they are sick. We continue to strongly recommend the use of face coverings by parents. students and staff, especially during this increase,” Fairfield officials said.

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