SOUTHERN INDIANA — As local schools proceed with reopening or prepare to start classes, contingency plans for scenarios involving students, teachers or staff members testing positive for COVID-19 are major considerations for Southern Indiana districts.
Local school districts’ reopening plans cover details regarding protocols for handling positive COVID-19 cases, including immediately notifying county health departments of cases and working with the health departments for quarantining individuals who might have been exposed.
Greater Clark County Schools began school Wednesday with both in-person and virtual learning. The New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp., Silver Creek Community School Corp. and Borden-Henryville School Corp are beginning Aug. 12, and Clarksville Community Schools will begin Aug. 6.
Exposure levels are among the biggest factors driving contingency plans for Southern Indiana districts. CDC guidelines define close contact as someone spending more than 15 minutes within six feet of a COVID-19 positive person.
Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel said contact tracing plays an important role in determining what groups need to be quarantined and whether there needs to be any closures, and it will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
“If we can’t track [levels of exposure]…we would be much more sweeping in who we quarantined, whereas if you say [the COVID-19 positive person] went to this class, sat by student B, C and D and walked in this hallway, we would be more conservative in what we shut down,” he said.
Yazel said an individual school building might be shut down if there were enough exposure levels at different parts of the building to make it necessary, but a district-wide shutdown would be more of a policy issue.
“What you would probably see, if it becomes a situation where there are just so many schools and so many exposures where we would have to make a bigger decision, that would happen in coordination with state and other local agencies, and it becomes a policy issue rather than a contact tracing issue,” he said.
Greater Clark Superintendent Mark Laughner told the News and Tribune Wednesday that Greater Clark will work closely with the Clark County Health Department in determining levels of exposure and making decisions regarding quarantining students and/or staff.
“As a school district we’ll work with the health department on where that student was sitting, whether it was on the bus or in the classroom, were there other students or staff potentially exposed to that student, and if they were, the health department would contact that child or their parents to make sure they are quarantined for the right amount of time,” Laughner said.
At Jeffersonville High School, the first week of school started Wednesday with eLearning due to a staff member recently testing positive for COVID-19. A small number of staff quarantined due to exposure. The one-week delay to in-person learning was based on the recommendation of Yazel.
NAFC Superintendent Brad Snyder said the challenge of creating plans for specific scenarios of positive COVID-19 cases is dealing with so many hypotheticals.
“The first steps are to report to the county health department, and from there, it’s all case-specific,” he said.
Snyder noted that factors such as grouping of students might make a big difference in terms of contact tracing. For example, it might be easier to conduct contact tracing in elementary classes where students stay with the same groups of people all day as opposed to high school and middle school students who are switching between multiple classes per day and exercising more independence outside of school.
Scott Gardner, safety director at Clarksville Community Schools, said the district has a direct report system in place with the Clark County Health Department so that positive cases would be immediately reported. The district is working to keep students and staff in cohort groups as much as possible to help with contact tracing, he said.
It might or might not mean small groups are quarantined, a class is quarantined or a school would close,” he said. “It is based on the health department identifying how long an individual would have been in a place around other people.”
At Borden-Henryville, the reopening plan includes a wide range of health protocols such as COVID-19 screening and what happens if a student tests positive during the school day, along with procedures for asymptomatic versus symptomatic individuals.
“We tried to cover every scenario we could think of, but I’m sure something else will come up,” Borden-Henryville Superintendent Sam Gardner said.
Silver Creek Superintendent Clemen Perez-Lloyd said the district has developed a “step-by-step” approach to handling COVID-19 cases in the district’s reopening plan and determining whether there has been a low-risk or high-risk exposure.
For example, the plan provides a detailed scenario of a student testing positive that takes into account factors such as class size, proximity of students, assigned seating, mask use and length of time spent around others, and it includes protocols for who would need to be quarantined, whether it is a small group or the entire classroom.
A group within the Silver Creek football team recently went into quarantine after a player tested positive for COVID-19, and practice was cancelled for 10 days. The players (including the student who tested positive) are now back to practice after the quarantine period, and no one else on the team tested positive.
Perez-Lloyd said the situation was handled well and helped prevent further exposure, and as students prepare to return, she emphasizes the importance of following the preventive measures outlined in the district’s reopening plan.
“I cannot predict what’s going to happen in the future, but I can tell you we’re doing the best to take preventive measures, and we hope student and staff have some kind of normal school year,” she said. “We do have plans just in case something could potentially happen [for switching to eLearning].”