Alabama Department of Public Health to clarify COVID-19 contact tracing guidance for schools

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ALABAMA – The school year began just a couple of weeks ago and already we have dozens of students and staff across North Alabama quarantined due to COVD-19. Now, the Alabama Department of Public Health says it’s going to revise some of the guidance it provided schools.

This week, Elkmont High School is only holding only virtual classes after multiple students were infected. Tuesday WHNT News 19 learned that a class from Hazelwood Elementary is in quarantine after a student became symptomatic.

Despite positive cases at schools across the region, last week, Dr. Karen Landers with ADPH said the state agency believes it is safe for students to be at school.

“With precautions that children can come back into the learning environment in the manner that the school system deems is appropriate,” said Landers during Friday’s Huntsville/Madison County COVID-19 briefing.

ADPH provided schools a toolkit filled with guidelines to navigate the 2020-2021 school year and the ongoing pandemic. But now ADPH officials say they are working to clarify information related to the case investigation and contact tracing process for the school systems.

About nine of the 82 pages in the toolkit address what to do if a student or staff member starts presenting COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive at school. The basic instructions lay out a five-step process.

School nurses play a huge role in this scenario, from separating symptomatic students and staff, identifying close contacts, sending them all home to quarantine, and contacting ADPH, guardians, and school officials.

To also help with contact tracing, ADPH asks school systems to create seating charts for buses and classrooms to assist with contact tracing.

People who are symptomatic, test positive, and those who come into close contact with them, should all quarantine according to the toolkit.

ADPH has not elaborated on what exactly would be clarified in the new guidance, but last week, Landers said it would help school nurses.

“I do believe that in reviewing this that we will be revising some guidance and providing some additional information and support to our school nurses related to this,” Landers said.

ADPH officials say the new guidance will be issued August 24. Meanwhile schools remain in session. 

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