LDH launching portal to report COVID-19 cases in schools

Louisiana to report COVID-19 cases at schools similar to how it reports cases at nursing homes

SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - With schools back in session the concern about coronavirus cases is also growing, leaving many parents questioning the requirements when it comes to reporting COVID-19 cases in their students schools.

Since the beginning of the school year, there’s been some confusion among families on how COVID-19 cases are reported.

If someone at a school tests positive, Dr. Martha Whyte says that’s when the contact tracing starts. The person who tests positive is isolated and sent home, as well as anyone who came into close contact with them.

“The schools have their plans and policies in place, most of that was directed by the Department of Education which put together a basic plan and then each district, as well as the private schools and the Diocese, worked on their local plans," Dr. Whyte said. "But what they have to do is they do have to look at who would be a close contact and then they have to pull that, the case has to be pulled out and isolated and the close contacts have to be pulled out and isolated.”

Close contact, according to the Department of Health, is when someone was within 6 feet of a positive case for more than 15 minutes, or had direct contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Those who came into close contact will be called, while others in the class who did not come in close contact would get a courtesy letter from the school.

“Really what those courtesy letters are meant to do is say ‘hey, we had a case in your child’s class, but your child was not one of the one’s who was in close contact’," Dr. Whyte said. “Some schools are not doing that and the issue has come when they try to do courtesy letters to that class a lot of the time people get confused and think their child has been exposed even though you try to make that letter as simple as possible. You know, sometimes people are just nervous, they’ve heard these rumors and then they get this letter and think their child has been exposed. If you did not receive a call about your child, your child is not a close contact.”

The Office of Public Health recommends to notify the entire school, but it is not required.

“In order to tell someone in a whole other section of a district or a whole other section of the school that has nothing to do with a case that’s a lot of work, a lot of calls, letters, a lot of outreach," Dr. Whyte said. "And really, it does nothing but increase the panic level.”

Dr. Whyte says LDH is working to be more transparent; similar to how cases at nursing homes are reported, cases at Louisiana schools will soon be reported on their website.

“It’s almost there so I would think in the next day or so you’ll see stuff reported on the state dashboard” Dr. Whyte said. “Hopefully that will help people, but people need to remember, that even if you see a positive case in your district or school, if your child was directly affected you would be contacted. They are not going to tell you exactly if it is the teacher or a student in the class. It doesn’t matter who is sick as long as they are those they were in contact with are taken care of and that’s what we are doing. You would want your child to have privacy. You would want yourself or your spouse if they are a teacher or a cafeteria worker to have privacy. Everyone deserves their health privacy just as you would want. That’s why we are not giving out specifics. I think that’s very important.”

We knew it was going to happen: some students, teachers and staff contracting COVID-19 with schools reopening. However, Dr. Whyte says a majority of the COVID cases they are seeing in students aren’t being contracted at school.

“Most of our spread is outside the school so I am going to ask our parents to please be the champions for us right now," Dr. Whyte said. “Don’t let your children just go out and hang out in large groups. It’s fine for them to meet up with some friends, try to keep it a small number. Make them understand they have to social distance and wear their masks because it’s really these parties, gatherings, sleepovers that are really leading us to have more kids out of school than actual spread within the school.”

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