By Kari Bray / Snohomish Health District
Some students have resumed in-person instruction under the statewide framework for a phased reopening of schools. While preventive efforts like face coverings, handwashing, screening for symptoms, distancing, and good ventilation can greatly reduce the likelihood of spreading COVID, the risk cannot be entirely eliminated in settings where people are together in person. This includes school and child care.
It can be scary for students, parents or staff to hear that there may have been a case at school.
This blog focuses on some key things for parents and others to keep in mind. We also encourage you to refer to the School COVID-19 Case Response Flow Chart and the COVID-19 Screening Protocols for more information on public health guidance to local schools.
What if there is a confirmed case at my child’s school or child care?
The Snohomish Health District has a team dedicated to responding to COVID-19 in schools and child care. When there is a positive case, disease investigators reach out to the person who has tested positive (or parents or guardians, when that person is a child). The schools and child care team also works closely with the school or child care provider.
Close contacts of the case are identified with guidance from public health staff. The school or child care compiles a list to provide via a secure portal to the Health District. Trained contact tracers reach out to everyone who has been identified as a close contact. This would include anyone who spent at least 15 minutes within six feet of the person during the period when they would be considered infectious. A person is considered contagious 2 days before symptoms show up.
Close contacts are notified directly via phone call by public health staff.
If you have not received a call or voicemail from public health, proceed about your day as you normally would. If your child is healthy and no one in your household has been ill or been in close contact with a case, your child does not need to quarantine or isolate.
What if a child is sick but has not tested positive?
If a child is not feeling well and has any symptoms of illness, even mild ones, they should stay home. Symptoms could include cough, sore throat, fever, chills, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, or loss of taste or smell. One symptom is enough to warrant staying home as a precaution.
We know it can be frustrating to keep a child home when they have mild symptoms. Children get sniffles, a cough, or upset stomachs from time to time, and this is usually not cause for alarm. But this pandemic is the time for extra caution, and we do ask that children stay home even if symptoms are mild.
If a child with symptoms does go to school, or if they start having symptoms while they are at school, expect that the student will be isolated and sent home as soon as possible. This means an ill student would likely be asked to wait in a dedicated room where they are not near others until a parent or guardian arrives to take them home.
If the child is tested and the results are negative, they may return to school once their symptoms have improved and they’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours. The exception is if they are a close contact of a confirmed case – close contacts must wait the full 14-day quarantine period to return to school or child care, regardless of symptoms or test results.
We encourage anyone with symptoms to get tested. However, if a student has symptoms but is not tested, they should remain home until at least 10 days after symptoms started AND at least 24 hours after fever is gone and symptoms have improved.
If a staff member becomes ill while at school, they also would return home immediately. The same timelines outlined above for students would apply for a staff member, as well.
Please note that, at this time, a doctor’s note is not adequate for a student or staff member to return to school if they have tested positive, if they show symptoms, or if they are a close contact of a case. Follow the timelines for remaining home. Documents to help illustrate these decisions are linked at the bottom of this blog.
What if a child is a close contact of a confirmed case?
There is a public health order that requires close contacts of a confirmed case to quarantine. The quarantine period lasts for 14 days from their most recent contact. If you receive a phone call from a contact tracer, they provide the start date. No one who is a close contact of a confirmed case should be at school or child care during their quarantine period.
We also urge others in the household to quarantine if one person is a close contact. If a parent, sibling, or someone else a student lives with has been identified as a close contact of a COVID case, the preferred plan is to keep everyone in the household home and monitor for symptoms during the quarantine period.
If school officials are informed that a student or staff member is a close contact of a confirmed case and has come to school during the quarantine period despite the health order, they may ask them to return home, or to isolate in a designated room until a parent or guardian can pick them up.
Why aren’t people told who in the school tested positive?
Do not expect your school or the Health District to provide you with the name of a student or staff member who has tested positive for COVID-19. This is protected personal health information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).
If you get a call that you or your child has been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case, public health staff will do their best to answer your questions. However, contact traces are required to adhere to medical privacy law and are therefore instructed not to share the name of the person who tested positive.
Public health and school officials also are not providing detailed information that could identify individuals. We understand that parents may want to ask whether the case was a student or staff member, what grade they teach or are in, what classrooms they spent time in, etc. However, not all details will be shared because this can jeopardize the privacy of individual cases.
If you know the identity of someone who has COVID through personal channels, do not share that information publicly. There are a number of precautions in place to reduce the risk of spreading illness and to respond quickly when there is a case. Identifying ill students or staff on a public platform does not add to disease control efforts, and is likely to raise a number of problems rather than solving them. A friend or colleague may tell you in confidence that they or their child has tested positive. Please keep that confidential.
The Public Health Essentials! blog highlights the work of the Snohomish Health District and shares health-related information and tips.