AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – School districts across Ohio have been challenged with the cumbersome task of trying to keep track of those students and staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 in addition to everyone with whom they may have come in close contact.
Districts have assigned dedicated personnel to take reports of positive cases and report those cases to building administrators who will then try to look at seating charts and student schedules to try and identify anyone who might have been exposed.
It is an equation that also takes in other factors, including whether the students were masked, whether they are vaccinated, whether there was social distancing and where and for how long they had contact.
Summit County Health Commissioner Donna Skoda says for each positive case she has worked, there have been between three and 15 calls to contacts who may have been exposed.
“This is a huge strain on schools because schools have these children for most of the day and they know who they have been around and who they haven’t been around and as you know, its very cumbersome. We have talked to districts that said they have had staff there until 8, 9, 10 o’clock at night trying who has been where and what’s going on and keeping track of this.” said Skoda.
Akron Public Schools believes it has not been as burdened as other districts because they mandated masks from the first day of the new school year.
The district has also been very assertive in implementing COVID safety protocols that include social distancing and thorough sanitizing of classrooms and buildings.
However, the district still has to go through the process of evaluating each step and each contact made by a student or staff member who has tested positive to determine if there was close enough contact with someone else.
“Sometimes you will realize that there’s a possibility that there’s going to be a time period in which the masking wasn’t available, the social distancing wasn’t appropriate and then you report not only the positive case, you then report under that case all the contact names. It could be five people, it could be 50 people,” said Debra Foulk, Executive Business Director of Akron Public Schools.
If certain criteria, like masking and social distancing and vaccinations, are identified, then that eliminates the need to make contacts, but the tracing still has to be done.
Canton City Schools, similarly, has had a mask mandate in place and the district’s spokesperson says they believe that has helped keep them from experiencing the challenges of some other districts.
Willoughby Eastlake Schools on Thursday were reporting 46 positive cases in the district. 44 of them are students and four of them are staff members.
The district also implemented a masking mandate after begining the school year with masks being optional.
Superintendent Steve Thompson says some of his other priorities have had to take a back seat because of the time and effort the district has had to commit to contact tracing.
“We get those calls in. The calls then go out to our building principals and then we begin the process of contact tracing and then, of course, reaching out to our teachers, looking at our seating charts, talking to the student and trying to figure out the flow of their day and who they have been in contact with,” said Thompson.
“We compile that list and then at night, sometimes our personnel are up until midnight trying to complete these every single night and then we start the process again the next day,” he added.
Thompson says he is grateful for the vast majority of parents who willingly comply with the districts health and safety protocols, in part because the fewer positive cases, the less contact tracing the district has to do.
It also places a priority on keeping everyone from becoming ill.