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Positivity protocol in Pinellas schools requires entire classes to quarantine

Pinellas County Schools outlined its protocol when a teacher or student tests positive for the coronavirus.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Uncertainty about COVID-19 testing accuracy, accessibility, and turnaround times will all come to a head in less than two weeks when much of the Tampa Bay area sends thousands of students back to school.

Districts across the state are working to put the finishing touches on their plans –an impossible task given the ever-changing guidelines and fluctuating data from the Department of Health.

The Pinellas County School Board held an eight-plus hour workshop Tuesday to go over reopening plans.

RELATED: Pinellas County School Board presses on with reopening plans

A large portion of its meeting was dedicated to protocol surrounding a positive case in schools.

WHEN A TEACHER TESTS POSITIVE FOR COVID-19

Sarah O’Toole with Pinellas County Schools Health Services went through a flow chart detailing what will happen when a teacher tests positive.

  • Teacher must notify principal
  • Principal reports case to the district's COVID-19 dashboard
  • Someone from the district's COVID team contacts teacher and principal for more information along with notifying the Department of Health
  • Teacher must isolate until they meet CDC criteria to come back
  • The county health department will perform contact tracing.
  • All affected classes must quarantine for 14 days
    • Elementary school situations might just be 10 kids
    • Middle and high school kids take 7 classes every day. The magnitude of quarantine will be greater
  • Affected classrooms will undergo a deep clean
  • District COVID team follows up with affected students to make sure they're not sick
  • Teacher can return to work with written clearance from a medical professional

WHEN A STUDENT TESTS POSITIVE FOR COVID-19

  • Parent or county health department notifies principal
  • Principal reports the case to district’s COVID-19 dashboard
  • Confirm the through the Department of Health
  • District's COVID team gathers more information from the parent and principal
  • Siblings and other household contacts within the district are sent home
  • Department of Health performs contact tracing
  • Affected classes must quarantine for 14 days
    • School Nurse and other staff create a “line list” of all other students in classes with the student who tested positive to determine who is considered a close contact and needs to quarantine
    • District makes accommodations for virtual learning for teachers and students who need to quarantine
  • Affected classrooms are deep cleaned
  • Students in quarantine can return to school after 14 days as long as they didn't develop symptoms
  • Student who tested positive must meet the following requirement to return to school: 
    • At least 10 days since symptoms appeared or since positive test date, AND
    • At least 24 hours fever-free without the use of fever-reducing medications, AND
    • Symptoms have improved
Credit: Pinellas County Schools

After hearing the protocol, board members voiced concerns about communicating the possibility of two-week protocols to families.

"You need to be available that something like this could occur. This could just be whisked upon a family on very short notice," said Lisa Cane.

Rene Flowers was concerned about the lack of testing involved in the protocol, noting the district wasn't requiring negative test results for a student or teacher to come back to school.

Sara O’Toole explained the district's reasoning, linking it to the fact that the CDC has shifted to a more symptomatic approach for returning to work or school – one that's less reliant on testing.

The Florida Department of Health sent 10 Tampa Bay this statement:

"When the Department of Health receives notification that a person has tested positive for COVID-19, the department conducts an extensive epidemiological investigation to identify individuals who may have had close contact with the virus. Those individuals are then notified by their county health department and instructed to self-isolate for 14 days after their exposure to the virus, and to contact their county health department and health care provider immediately if they develop symptoms. This process is followed for all individuals who test positive in Florida.

The Department of Health is continuing to review and determine the most appropriate method for reporting outbreaks in schools. However, case and testing information related to schools will be incorporated into daily statewide and county reporting as well as the Department’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard."

The Florida Department of Education provided school districts with some guidance on reopening schools. Direction on responding to a confirmed case in a school can be found here starting on Page 60.

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