Wayne County Public Schools on Aug. 18 announced that it would be sending out alerts when individuals have been on a school campus who have tested positive for COVID-19.
The district also republicized its protocols and shared more details about cleaning and sanitizing efforts. Since that time, the district has received a number of follow-up questions regarding its protocols.
To support our staff, families, and the public we felt it would be helpful to release the following frequently asked questions (FAQ):
What are the basic expectations for students, parents, staff and visitors who come on to a school campus?
Upon arrival to a school, everyone has to take part in Health Screenings, which includes a temperature check and answering 3 attestation questions specific to COVID-19.
There will be some instances where someone has a verified exemption, such as a medical condition, which will allow them to be on a WCPS campus without a mask. Unless they have a verified exemption, all students, staff and visitors are required to wear masks on campuses and school buses. Everyone is also being required to maintain 6 feet social distancing and adhere to any signage specific to walkways, entrances or exits.
Why did the district begin sending out "WCPS COVID-19 Alerts" via its App and Facebook page?
While WCPS is not required to send out general alerts, we believe with the return of students and staff that a school community should be informed when an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 has come onto a school campus.
Moving forward, families at an impacted school will also receive a notification via the district's call system in addition to being able to receive alerts via the district's mobile app and facebook page: @WayneCountyPS.
NOTE: While the district will not release confidential student or staff information, "close contacts" (individuals within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes) who may have been potentially exposed to a person with COVID-19 will be directly notified.
Why doesn't WCPS provide more specifics in its alerts, like whether it was a student, parent, staff member or visitor who had COVID-19?
While COVID-19 is on the minds of everyone, and understandably so, a person's individual medical information is their own.
While it is true that reporting this information wouldn't necessarily identify someone who has COVID-19 to the general public, our schools have gotten smaller in Plan B/C and Virtual, meaning there are fewer people coming onto our campuses.
WCPS will not release any details in its alerts which, through the process of elimination, may lead to the identification of an "individual" that has COVID-19. WCPS will also make every effort to prevent creating an environment where upon return from quarantine a student may be bullied by their classmates, a staff member may be ostracized by their peers, or a person may experience shame or some other negative feeling simply because they had gotten sick or diagnosed with COVID-19.
I was at a school where an alert went out. Does this mean I was exposed to someone with COVID-19?
As a part of the district's response, any "close contacts" who were potentially exposed will be personally contacted and told to quarantine for 14 days and self-monitor.
This means if you were at a school where an individual that tested positive was on the campus and you were not directly notified, then you are not considered a "close contact".
There were a number of alerts in the first week of school. Does this mean that schools are having the biggest issues in our county with COVID-19?
Cases of COVID-19 are not something new in Wayne County and our alerts are not highlighting a new problem that is occurring.
Rather the alerts are shining a light on what the Wayne County government has been reporting since March, which is that individuals in our county, like counties across our nation, are testing positive for COVID-19.
Along with our schools, there are businesses, restaurants, hotels, churches and other public agencies in our county that are also being impacted when employees, customers, or visitors with COVID-19 come into their facilities.
Most entities experiencing similar situations are not sending out public alerts, so we understand why our alerts may be giving some a false impression that schools are the main ones being impacted.
How is WCPS responding when someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 comes onto a school campus?
WCPS has been and will continue following state guidance and working with local health officials in its response to COVID-19.
The most current NCDHHS guidance and protocols can be found in the StrongSchoolsNC: Public Health Toolkit (K-12) and the Reference Guide for Suspected, Presumptive, or Confirmed Cases of COVID-19 (K-12).
Because the state's guidance documents are filled with pages of information, resources and protocols for schools to follow, a more general explanation may be more helpful for families, staff and the community to understand.
First, it is important to recognize that each situation at a school will vary and must be handled on a case by case basis. For instance, variables can differ such as when the person with COVID-19 came on to a campus, where they were on the campus, how long they were on the campus, when they were tested, why they were tested, when they tested positive, when they got their results, if they are currently experiencing symptoms, if they were symptomatic at the time they were on campus, when they began experiencing symptoms, if they have been quarantined, if they were already quarantined at the time of the test, when the last time any areas they were in were disinfected by custodial or operations staff, if there were any "close contacts", if "close contacts" have been notified, if health officials have been notified yet, or if the school was notified by health officials.
As part of the district's response, contact tracing will occur. If there are "close contacts" at a school, they will be personally notified and instructed to quarantine for 14 days and self-monitor. WCPS will also use cleaning equipment to disinfect both the air and contact surfaces in all areas of the building where the individual who tested positive for COVID-19 has been. In all instances, health officials will be notified.
Will an alert be sent if someone who was at a school had to quarantine because they learned they are a "close contact"?
Being a "close contact" and having COVID-19 are not the same thing. As such, WCPS will not send an alert simply because an individual at a school was named a "close contact" and asked to quarantine and self-monitor.
WCPS will however send an alert if that same individual begins showing symptoms during their first week of quarantine and are tested and found positive for COVID-19.
In the instance there is a cluster or outbreak of cases at a school, will the public be notified?
Yes. WCPS will work with the local health department and NCDHHS to publicly report if there is a cluster of cases or an outbreak of COVID-19 at a specific school. NOTE: In a child care or school setting, NCDHHS defines a COVID-19 cluster as a minimum of five laboratory confirmed cases with illness onsets or initial positive results within a 14-day period and plausible epidemiologic linkage between cases.