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Superintendents Told Contact-Tracing Should Increase by Time School Opens

From the Kentucky Department of Education:

A system of contact tracers should be deployed in almost every local health department in Kentucky by the end of July, according to Mark Carter, executive adviser to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Before COVID-19 hit, there were about 430 people in health departments statewide doing disease investigation and contact tracing, he said during the Special Superintendents’ Webcast on Tuesday. Historically, those tracers focused on diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, he said.

But many more qualified staff were needed to help control COVID-19. Contact tracing staff has more than doubled, and by the time school is scheduled to restart, another 260 tracers should be added, Carter said.

He walked through what contact tracers would and wouldn’t ask when investigating a COVID-19 case at a school. Real contact tracers will never ask someone’s Social Security number, passwords, banking information or immigration status, Carter said.

“We’ve been really concerned about fraud,” he said. Anyone asked for those details, instead of where someone has been or who they’ve been with, should hang up and report it to the Kentucky Attorney General’s office, Carter said.

There’s lots of misinformation on social media, but the Contact Tracing and Tracking communications team has developed lots of trustworthy materials, he said. Most of it is available at kycovid19.ky.gov. Local health departments and the state Department for Public Health (DPH) can provide it as well.

Healthy at School Revision

A one-page revision of the DPH and Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) flagship Healthy at School guidance document is being issued in response to new recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Dr. Connie White, DPH deputy commissioner.

In previous webcasts, many school districts have asked if they could install plexiglass dividers in classrooms. Health officials initially opposed that idea out of concern for cleaning time, secure installation and possible sharp edges.

But if plexiglass shields are securely mounted, have no sharp edges and are regularly cleaned, they will be allowed, White said.

Emily Messerli, DPH immunization branch manager, said plexiglass shields could be used in classes with young children or special needs students who may have difficulties wearing masks. The dividers should not be used just to fit more students in a classroom, she said.

White said dividers provide an extra layer of protection, but they are no substitute for maintaining a 6-foot distance, so if students are closer than that they still will need to wear masks.

Guidance from the CDC also has changed and that is incorporated in the Healthy at School revision, White said. Previously, people who tested positive for COVID-19 had to wait at least 10 days since symptoms appeared and go 72 hours without fever – and without use of fever-reducing medication – before returning to school.

While people still must wait 10 days after the onset of symptoms, they now only need to be fever-free for 24 hours, White said. A negative COVID-19 test is not required for return to school, she said.

Finally, the original guidelines to send home anyone with a cough inadvertently included people with pre-existing conditions that can cause a chronic cough, such as asthma, White said. The new rule is to send home only those with a “new, uncontrolled cough” which causes trouble breathing, she said.

COVID-19 Rates Rising

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House Coronavirus task force coordinator, was in Kentucky on July 26 as a “sign of concern” about the rising rate of COVID-19 cases here and in surrounding states, said Interim Commissioner of Education Kevin C. Brown. He hopes Gov. Andy Beshear’s renewed restrictions, announced July 27, will help bring the infection rate down so school can resume. For now, it is the governor’s recommendation that in-person classes start no sooner than Aug. 17.

Other countries have brought COVID-19 rates down through diligent mask use, fast contact tracing and quarantining, and Kentuckians can do the same, White said.

“We can see them go down as quickly as the 17th of August. This can be done,” she said.

Reopening schools won’t be possible unless communities respect health guidance, Messerli said. Schools, superintendents and teachers need to communicate to the public that if they want their kids in school, social distancing and mask-wearing are vital, she said.

“It’s a community effort to get the children back into school,” Messerli said.

Brown stressed the risk of traveling to COVID-19 hot spots, not just for students but also for school employees. Gov. Beshear recommends that athletes and school staff who travel for events to a state with a positive COVID-19 test rate above 15% should self-quarantine upon their return, White said.

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