How Utah schools will respond if a student or employee tests positive for COVID-19

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ST. GEORGE — During a state press conference Thursday afternoon, a 102-page school manual was released that outlines specific guidelines for how schools should respond to COVID-19 cases.

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The COVID-19 School Manual, composed by the Utah Department of Health and the 13 local health departments in Utah, is a comprehensive guide that answers one of the main questions many have when it comes to teachers and students testing positive.

One of the main questions related to a student or teacher testing positive for COVID-19 is whether that would cause a school to be closed. According to what’s outlined in the manual, in most cases, the school will not need to close.

“Only when the school can’t provide a safe learning environment will the school need to consider temporary remote learning or closure,” the manual states. “This might happen if there is an outbreak in a classroom or at the school and too many students, teachers, or employees are sick to provide the necessary services to keep the school open.”

Districts are encouraged to work closely with the local school board and health department before making a decision to close.

A teacher, student or employee who tests positive for COVID-19 is required to immediately isolate for a minimum of 10 days (the extent of one’s sickness varies).

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The manual differentiates between isolation and quarantining: Isolation is for people who are infected while quarantine is for people who were in close proximity (closer than 6 feet) for 15 minutes or longer to a person who tests positive for COVID-19.

“Anyone who was in close contact with a person who has COVID-19 up to two days before he or she had symptoms or tested positive is considered exposed and should quarantine for 14 days,” the manual states.

In Utah, public schooling is considered essential, which means that a teacher or student may still go to school under a modified quarantine following exposure to the coronavirus. They should spend as little time as possible around others and not go to any gatherings until after the 14-day quarantine expires.

However, if a person lives with someone who has tested positive, he or she will not be allowed to return to school until after a 14-day quarantine.

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Each school will have a point of contact for tracing. This person will work in tandem with the local health department in order to provide the name of the person who tested positive and track who may have been in contact with that person. The personal identification of the person who tested positive will not be shared with anyone else.

If the health department is unable to determine who was in close contact with a person who tests positive, like in the case of group gatherings, all people who were in attendance will be under a modified quarantine for 14 days as long as they are not showing any symptoms, which again means that they will be allowed to return to school.

A doctor’s note will not be needed as proof of one’s sickness. Obtaining a negative test result upon returning to school after being infected with COVID-19 is also not required. In some cases, people have shown positive test results long after they are infectious, according to the manual.

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Students, teachers and employees will be put under 14-day quarantine every time they have a close contact exposure, according to the manual.

For teachers and employees who have a close contact exposure, if there is a substitute teacher or other employee who can fill in without disrupting the quality of student learning, then the teacher or employee should stay home and quarantine for 14 days.

In the case that the teacher or employee’s duties cannot be adequately fulfilled, the teacher or employee could return to school and work under a modified quarantine as long as he or she is not showing any symptoms of COVID-19.

Steven Dunham, communications director for the Washington County School District, told St. George News that the district works directly with K-12 Education Management and Staffing Solution to acquire substitute teachers. Because many substitutes are retired teachers, many may fall in the high-risk category and choose not to substitute.

Dunham said there have been times in the past when the district had a shortage of substitutes, but this fluctuates due to demand.

In the case that the teacher is sick and a substitute teacher cannot be obtained in the fall, Dunham said that they will either have another teacher or staff member temporarily fill in, but this would only be a short-term solution.

“Other teachers may cover the class for a day in hopes that you get a substitute the next day or an administrator would come in and help cover that class for the day,” he said, referring to how they responded to the issue in the past.

Anyone who has a close contact exposure while under quarantine must quarantine again. On the contrary, if a person who has tested positive for the coronavirus has a close contact exposure within 90 days of when they tested positive, they are not required to quarantine and may go to school or work unless they are sick or exhibiting symptoms. In this case, they should contact a health care provider and get tested again.

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The best thing anyone can do is stay home when experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19 and practice all safety precautions such as wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing and keeping hands washed. The manual asks local districts to consider a non-punitive attendance policy to alleviate student and parent fears of missing school.

For the Washington County School District, Dunham said there will be a level of leniency when it comes to attendance.

“Parents will still have to excuse absences … but we will work with families on this,” he said.

While Iron County School District delayed their reopening for two weeks for further preparation, Dunham said they are ready to go and looking forward to opening schools on Aug. 13.

He said:

Our teachers are excited to have students back as well. They miss their kids. They miss working with them. Obviously, there is some nervousness out there, and that’s completely understandable, considering the situation that we’re all going through. But everybody wants to get back to school, where we can provide some help, both with the education and the mental health needs. It’s taxing on a student’s mental health to be away from school, to be cooped up, to have that normal taken away, and we want to provide that normal again as much as possible.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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