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School District outlines COVID protocols

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Aug 27, 2021

Overwhelmed with the number of COVID Increase Report forms, the School District of Lee County is looking into additional ways to streamline the process of notifying the schools of positive cases, as well as increasing protocols for the safety of students.

A special Facebook live meeting was held Wednesday afternoon to share information with the community regarding the District’s protocols and procedures for COVID-19.

“I want to start by letting you know that we hear your concerns. Your phone calls, emails and social media posts have all reached us. We understand the stress you feel about sending your children to school right now. We know you are frustrated sometimes with the information you receive and at times don’t receive,” Superintendent Dr. Ken Savage said. “I am a parent with students in this district. Many of my colleagues are parents with students in the district. We understand where you are coming from and we are working tirelessly to make every day better than the one before it.”

He said the challenge has been communication, as this has been such a dynamic picture that the district constantly has to adapt. They continue to have meetings with principals via Zoom, so every question can be answered. In addition, the pandemic team meets at least three times a week to ensure everything is being done to keep students safe while receiving an education.

According to the Florida Department of Health for the week ending Aug. 19, there is a 27.9 percent positivity rate in Lee County, which the district is feeling. There are a total of 435,296 people vaccinated among the 773,456 Lee County population. Sixty-three percent of those 12 and older are vaccinated.

Chief Engagement Officer Lauren Stillwell said to put it into perspective, last year between August to December the district had 10,000 COVID-19 reports filed with the district regarding exposures and positive cases. This year, between Aug. 10 and this Tuesday, the district had more than 6,000 reports filed.

“In 14 days we have received more than half of what we saw in four months last year. Our numbers are climbing, which begs us to repeat our very important message. If a student is sick, please keep them home and see a healthcare provider for testing and care. This is the No. 1 way to prevent the spread of not just COVID, but other illnesses as well,” she said.

Stillwell said when the district receives a positive case, the school, district, or COVID Command Center is notified through the COVID Information Report. The reports can be found and filled out at three different places on the district’s homepage, www.leeschools.net.

The COVID Command Center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and can be reached at 239-356-2800.

Once the district has that report, schools will pull seating charts, identify close contacts and send information to the COVID Command Center so nurses can check the information. From there information is sent to the Florida Department of Health to investigate, followed by sending quarantine and isolation information back to the district’s COVID Command Center. From there the COVID Command Center checks information and then sends it to the schools, which then notifies families with a return date for their student.

Additional contract tracers are supposed to be embed into the COVID Command Center once the technology is in place within a week, to further streamline information and get faster results.

“On the surface this is a very easy process. The volume of cases and exposures we are receiving, we are behind in processing these reports,” Stillwell said. “We are hiring more people to help. Just this week we trained 13 additional staff members who will be coming in after hours to assist.”

The district has to follow certain requirements that were released by the state Surgeon General on Aug. 6 for exposures, positive cases and symptomatic students.

When a student or staff member is exposed, it means that someone is within six feet of a positive case for 15 minutes, or more in a 24-hour period.

“The time frame is not all at once. It is cumulative, so it can be 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there,” Stillwell said. “If a student is nonvaccinated, exposed and asymptomatic, that student may return to school with a negative diagnostic test that is taken five days, or later, from the day that they were exposed. That is important because we are seeing many COVID information reports that a student is tested the same day, or the day after they are exposed. The test must be taken five days, or after exposure.”

Another way a nonvaccinated asymptomatic student can return to school is after seven calendar days have passed since the exposure. In other words, that student can return on day eight. If a nonvaccinated student is systematic, they are considered presumptive cases.

The second section addresses symptomatic, or COVID positive students, who are treated exactly the same.

“They may return after one of three things happens: The student receives a negative diagnostic test and is asymptomatic, 10 calendar days have passed since the onset of symptoms, the student has had no fever for 24 hours and the student’s other symptoms are improving without medication, or the student receives a note from an MD, DO, or ARNP to return and the students are improving without mediation,” Stillwell said.

The third section targets a student who has a prior COVID-19 infection within the previous 90 days and is asymptomatic. She said no action is required and the student may remain in school. However, Stillwell said, if the student is systematic, they must follow the steps from the second section.

“If a student is asymptomatic and fully vaccinated, which means it has been two weeks since their final dosage of the vaccine, they do not need to quarantine if they are exposed to a positive case. If they are symptomatic, however, then they must follow the guidance in section two,” Stillwell said.

For students who are out of school, they have access to lessons through Google Classrooms and can email their teachers for assignments and assistance. The district also is offering a K-12 tutoring program, Connect with Lee. It is currently available from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday using the launch pad on Chromebooks. Daytime hours will be launched on Sept. 7.

When the district has a positive case in the school house, it will be reported on its website with a table that will show confirmed positive cases associated with the school campus. The first section will illustrate the daily number of cases broken down by students and employees. The second section is cumulative information from the first day of school.

“This information does not mean the student, or employee contacted COVID-19 from the school. Information will be updated daily based on confirmation from the DOH of positive cases. If there was a zero, there were no positive cases reported for that day,” Stillwell said. “We are currently authenticating the data and making adjustments and hope to have this launched on our website by the end of the week.”

There are many health and safety protocols still in place to help mitigate the spread of COVID in schools, with a handful being reinstated.

The new protocols include volunteers not being allowed on campus during school hours; field trips will be district sponsored only with school staff chaperoning; field trip and athletic travel will use an increased number of buses to accommodate more spacing; one-way hallways and stairwells; no locker room use during halftime; grab- and-go breakfast and lunch; meals eaten in classrooms; staggered seating in cafeterias to avoid student sitting face to face; secondary classroom desks will be wiped down after each class change and no gatherings like carnivals, festivals and dances.

The practices that have remained include social distancing to the greatest extent possible, mask requirement with opt out option, desks facing forward, assigned seating and seating charts, available hand sanitizer in key places, limited water fountain use, no visitors on campus and an isolation room for students with COVID-like symptoms. In addition there is high frequency cleaning of common surfaces, additional cleaning with a positive case on buses and in the classroom.

Savage said they will review all of these protocols at the same time they review the district’s mask requirement with the opt out option on or before Sept. 10.

“It is a terrifying time in our community. We continue to engage with our medical professionals every day. We want to know what is happening in our system. This is an all hands on deck moment for our entire community. This is not a political issue. We are trying to keep our kids safe every day and allow learning to take place in our community, I pray this surge will end as quickly as it can. We continue to look at everything happening across the entire state.”