ADPH hiring, outsourcing to meet COVID-19 case investigation needs in schools

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Since the pandemic began, the Alabama Department of Public Health has issued several forms of guidance for Alabama’s schools.

But the department admits it needs help in terms of contact tracing.

For example, currently there are 668 people in quarantine within the Huntsville City Schools system.

However, the number of cases, and those in quarantine far exceed the number of ADPH contact tracers in the region.

ADPH said there have been cases amongst students of all ages, however one age group is standing out.

“Right at the moment, we do tend to see, more cases in the older adolescent age group if you will,” explained Dr. Karen Landers with ADPH. “The 12 to 17 year old age range.”

Landers said older children are more efficient transmitters of covid-19.

However the adults in charge of managing and tracing these juvenile cases seem few and far between.

Currently, ADPH only has two assigned case investigators for all of its Northern Alabama region.

“We are in the process of hiring some additional staff in each of our districts with the Alabama Department of Public Health to be able to address the issue of working with schools and other entities,” Landers said.

Landers told News 19 hiring was in effect two weeks ago, now there’s an anticipated timeframe for the completion of the hires.

“We already have some staff on board and we do hope that we will have our additional staff within the next month.”

In the meantime, Landers said the current case investigators continue to work remotely.

Recently, News 19 was told by Huntsville City Schools that identifying whether a positive case belonged to a student or teacher was a violation of patient privacy laws.

Wednesday, ADPH provided clarification.

News 19 Investigative reporter, Dallas Parker asked Landers to explain exactly what constitutes as a HIPAA violation, and if disclosing whether a positive case came from a student or teacher is a violation of that federal law.

“Basically HIPAA has specific guidelines, and indicators regarding providing information, certainly, a person’s name or identifiers cannot be provided,” Landers explained.

She said depending on the size of the school or system, it may be easier to determine a positive patient’s identity, which could be problematic. However, Landers explained, on the surface identifying a positive teacher or student case is not a direct violation of the federal law.

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