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School board hears COVID-19 notification processes

By MEGHAN BRADBURY / news@breezenewspapers.com

By Staff | Sep 1, 2020

An extensive presentation of an internal flow chart was provided to the School Board of Lee County last week, outlining the notification and communication process for COVID-19 cases.

Chief of Staff Lauren Stillwell said there are two ways that they are notified about someone who has symptoms, exposure or a positive case. One is outside notification from a family member, guardian, or maybe the Florida Department of Health. The second would come from the student, staff, or a referral to the clinic, or isolation rooms if the child is presenting symptoms throughout the day when they are on district campuses.

The district created an internal flow chart so the community, as well as district and school leadership, can understand how the process flows, as well as what they will be responsible for. There also is a flow chart for the district office, with many procedures the same.

For employees and students in the school building, the district wants to know three primary things — if someone has tested positive, has symptoms, or has been exposed.

“If the answer to these three questions is no, that person can return to school, or work. It’s kind of like monopoly, they can immediately pass go and collect $200 and go to class,” Stillwell said.

But, if they answer yes to any of those questions, they cannot enter the premises, or they need to be taken to the isolation room if they are already on the campus.

“At that point the COVID-19 notification form must be filled out. That’s a huge part of this chain, so I’m going to come back to it, but now we are going to continue through the flowchart and assume COVID-19 form has been filled out,” Stillwell said.

If the employee cannot enter the premises, then it needs to be determined if that person can continue to work remotely. Stillwell said if they can and they have manager approval then he, or she will do that.

“If they cannot, they will follow the sick reporting procedures, and they will refer to the district website, and also will be able to call HR for information and forms regarding the FFCRA, which is the Family First Coronavirus Response Act Leave,” she said. “The employee may not return to work unless they meet the criteria with the last box on the page with the green heading.”

School Board member Melisa Giovannelli asked how would a classroom be covered if a teacher was out.

Chief Administrator Officer Dr. Jeff Spiro said any certified teacher in the building that does not have students in front of them will cover classes as needed. At the district-level they will have a process in place that will use certified teachers who can support students as well.

“We are committed to making sure that folks at the district are inside the schools helping as well,” Spiro said.

Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said they have the full expectation that staff in the district office have to be ready to go 24/7 to be deployed wherever needed.

“It’s better to be conservative in your planning,” he said.

For employees with a presumptive diagnosis, with a subsequent non-COVID diagnosis, the employee can come back to work with a wavier from a health care provider stating symptoms are not COVID related. If they cannot get that waiver, the district will consider them having a presumptive diagnosis and if this is the case, or if they test positive, they must stay home for 10 days and be symptom free for 24 hours without symptom reducing medication.

Finally, if the employee has been exposed to a positive case, he or she may not come back until after quarantining for 14 days.

For students, the same criteria applies.

Board member Betsy Vaughn said they have to think about the entire community and what is going on in terms of testing and how soon the testing results come back.

Stillwell said if the volume of the tests goes up, the results will take longer, but as of right now doctors are getting results within 24 to 48 hours. Some of the pediatricians have shared that they will be getting rapid testing soon, which is at a cost, she added.

“Have we done anything in trying to establish some kind of partnership with the county,” Vaughn asked. “Have we explored anything like that?”

Stillwell said they have been working with the DOH and Lee Health in terms of their options.The DOH response rate is 24 to 48 hours for test results, so the district has talked to them and would be able to do an agreement with them, if the board so choses. The agencies would provide the kits for free and the shipping free, Stillwell said. In addition, the district has also reached out to Lee Health in terms of where they would be testing.

Adkins said he spoke with the county manager on Aug. 25. The county offered a massive shipment of masks for the school district, which they should be receiving soon.

“He also has CARES dollars that are available that he reminded me that we need to have those spent. So if you are doing anything in cooperation with Lee Health, as it relates to rapid testing, we stand by to help with the cost of it,” Adkins said the county manager shared.

Vaughn said all the experts say that rapid testing is key.

“Even though we have a wonderful plan here, there is still with so many students going back, and teachers and all of that, everyone is expecting at least some kind of a spike. As you said with the spike there is going to be more testing and it will take longer and all the experts agree that the faster the turnaround the easier it is to get control,” she said. “If we can explore any additional ways that we can get faster turnaround for our staff and students at no cost. We have so many kids that parents can’t afford that. I am hoping that there will be some people stepping up offering partnerships for the really fast turnarounds.”

Stillwell said the process also includes a COVID-19 notification form within the internal flow chart.

The district is creating a digital notification form that will be posted on the district and school websites, which will be publicly available. The form link was being finalized as of Aug. 25.

“It’s a critical step in gathering information that the Florida Department of Health will need in order to access what needs to be done,” Stillwell said.

There are two tracks, one for students and one for staff, which asks for all pertinent information, such as the name, date of birth, place of work, the date the person was last in the building and where the person was when in the building.

“When the form is submitted by the employee, or student, it will get to the principal secretary, or at the district sites it will go to the leader in that department division,” Stillwell said.

Once the form is filled out and received, designated people will open up the form, evaluate it and gather new information, such as where, who and how, needed for the form.

“Where” is in regards to where the staff member, or student has been; who the staff member and student has been in contact with and how to get in touch with the people the staff and students has been in contact with.

The “who” will include seating charts on buses, which will include transportation uploading that chart from the bus. Stillwell said it is imperative that teachers have a seating chart for each classroom as well.

“We need to know how far apart they are in those classrooms and on the buses,” Stillwell said.

If the desks were spaced 3 feet apart, they would potentially have eight confirmed exposures and the ill student would be the ninth. If the desks were 4 feet apart then they would have four confirmed and four potential exposures. If the desks were 6 feet apart they would have four potential exposures.

Adkins said it was created by the Department of Health for illustrative purposes and does not translate what is going to take place in the classroom. He said they are striving for 6 feet between desks in the classroom.

Chief Financial Officer Dr. Ami Desamours said there will be desk shields for students. They had not planned on doing it on a one-to-one basis, but in the cases where teachers have tables where students need to be divided.They also can be used on some of the desks where there might be two, or three of the desks placed together to provide a divider between each student.

“We expect the shipment of those in by Thursday (Aug. 27) and we will be working hard over the next several days to make sure everyone gets their shipment of those before Monday (Aug. 31),” Desamours said.

Once the administrators have the where, who and how, they will enter that information, which includes uploading seating charts into the notification forms. Once submitted, the forms will go to the Health Service Coordinator Beth Wipf.

Stillwell said Wipf will evaluate the forms and she will communicate with the school administrators if there is any follow-up or more clarification needed. Wipf will then enter more information into the form, if deemed necessary, and determine if it is a valid incident.

If it is a valid incident, Wipf will notify the Florida Health Department and Stillwell will notify a specific person with the Florida Department of Education of positive cases.

The FLDOH has assigned a representative to each school zone, which they can call when they have positive cases.

She said it is the FLDOH’s responsibility to assess exposures and notify close contacts of positive cases, which will occur, whenever possible, in the same business day the FLDOH has been notified.

The FLDOH will also include a letter for the staff member and student excluding them from school/worksite as appropriate.

While the FLDOH does its process, the district will continue with its process with the COVID-19 task force, a diverse group of people from each district division working with Wipf.

Stillwell said one group will notify those in their respective areas, meaning the person in operations will be responsible for notifying maintenance, so the cleaning protocols will be triggered, or HR so staffing can be figured out if need be, as well as IT in case more Chromebooks need to be issued.

The other group that is part of the task force will be responsive to school communities. The district is setting up hotlines numbers and email addresses, which the group will be responsible in providing information and answering questions.

“We are outfitting the conference room at the end of the bus mural in our lobby for this group,” Stillwell said. “We have phone lines in there and computers where they will be stationed. The task force will also be taking a lead on communication with families and the school community based on severity of the case.”

The task force will have the hotline operational from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the first 10 days of school. The email will be answered by a team of chiefs after hours and on weekends.

Stillwell said one of the biggest things they have faced this summer is addressing what to do if there is a positive COVID-19 case and creating a matrix for their schools, so they know how to handle a positive case in the school. The district has been working closely with a group of pediatricians and the FLDOH to create the matrix of various scenarios.

If a student, or staff member is exposed to a positive case, the student would not be allowed into the school, or if it happened in school hours they would be sent home. The classroom itself would remain open and the district would do the presumptive positive cleaning procedures, Stillwell said.

The notification of a positive exposure would come through the FLDOH through contact tracing. The district would provide communication directly to the student of how they would access their work while they are out.

The next scenario included students and staff who have symptoms.

“Anyone who has symptoms, please stay home,” Stillwell said. “We will figure out a way for your children to transition into distance learning to use Google Classrooms to make up their assignments.”

School Board member Chris Patricca had a question, which used a personal example of her son who has allergies. She said he takes his medication every day, but still sneezes, coughs and has a runny nose.

“I do have a note from his doctor saying that he has allergies. Is he covered if I have that on file at the school, or is he going to be sent home every day?” she asked.

Wipf said they are asking for documentation and that is perfect that she had already provided that and have it filed with the school.

“That way we understand the student’s underlying medical condition and we can make a determination. Okay, these symptoms fit his underlying condition therefore let’s see how we can help him with his condition. If he has medication at school we can provide for him, or if he needs to go home because he needs to take that medication, but let’s keep him in school because that is where he belongs,” she explained.

If a student, or staff member presents with symptoms while at school, Stillwell said they will recommend to the parent, or guardian that the student be tested, and the classroom will remain open. Then symptom triggered cleaning procedures will take place.

“The student will be placed with staff in the isolation room and there will be a direct communication with parents and guardians plans on next steps, including stay-at-home guidelines, instructional continuity guidelines and the return to school protocol,” Stillwell said.

If the district receives information that they tested negative after the symptoms then there is no action needed and they continue their routine maintenance scheduled protocol.

Stillwell said if they get determination or notification that they have a confirmed case then they will consider classroom closure, which would be determined by the superintendent with guidance from health officials.

An elementary school classroom will be closed with one to two positive cases, which needs to happen because the kids are younger and they cannot guarantee all protocols have been followed and social distancing imposed for the time needed. The classroom will be transitioned to distance learning for two weeks.

If there is a positive case at the middle, or high school level the FLDOH will identify students in close contact to that case and the district will direct those students to quarantine for 14 days. Stillwell said at this level the classrooms would stay open because they have a better chance of identifying those students who need to quarantine.

In both of those scenarios the schools would stay open and they would implement their confirmed positive response mitigation protocol.

If the positivity rate of a school reaches 5 percent, the district will most likely close that school, Stillwell said. If the positivity rate at a district reaches 25 percent the district will close and transition to distance learning.

“We might also look at closing zones depending on where that community spread is. It is possible that we may shut down the West Zone if we get to that 25 percent and we are not seeing that level at the schools in the other zones,” Stillwell said.

All of this will be done with advisories from the FLDOH.

Stillwell said they will notify all parents at the school when there is a positive case.