District discusses possibly using federal funds for COVID-19 tests to get quarantined kids back in class

ST. GEORGE — During a Washington County School Board of Education work meeting Monday, the board discussed options related to quarantine for those students who have not tested positive for COVID-19 but are having to miss two weeks of in-person instruction due to close contact with someone who did test positive.

In this August 2020 file photo, board member Laura Hesson and superintendent Larry Bergeson discuss modified quarantine during the Washington County School District Board of Education meeting, St. George, Utah, Aug. 31, 2020 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

Larry Bergeson, district superintendent, said they are getting more of the virtual students coming back. Currently they have 83 student who are quarantined, but the number continues to fluctuate and is putting a lot pressure on teachers.

While there haven’t yet been any reported cases of student-to-student spread or student-to-teacher spread within the district, there are still students spending time with one another outside of school and are most likely not wearing masks, Bergeson said.

Bergeson said that the Southwest Utah Public Health Department has suggested that people get tested five to seven days after being exposed to someone who tested positive, and if they are negative, they can come back. However, they are also supporting the 14-day guidelines for quarantine recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

“So they’re speaking out of both sides of their mouths,” Bergeson said.

Deciding whether to allow students to come back to school if they tested negative for COVID-19 five days after the exposure comes down to a central issue of financial equity, Bergeson said.

“There’s two problems of equity: One is the cost of the test, because it’s not covered anymore or it was originally free. The other is, can you afford to go see a doctor?”

These types of equity questions are becoming the main issue the district is running up against when it comes to making adjustments.

“Everybody agrees: 14 days is ridiculous,” Bergeson said. “There is no spread in the schools in any of the above that we can confirm.”

David Stirland, the president of the board, suggested using money from the federal CARES Act for testing.

David Stirland, president of the board, expresses gratitude to community members and others for their patience and feedback as the board has worked to compose a reopening plan, St. George, Utah, July 27, 2020 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

“If we got a significant amount of CARES money we could put it to testing, and it would solve the equity issue,” Stirland said. “Because we’d have money so kids could go get tested, and the district would pay for it.”

Brent Bills, business administrator for the district, said the cheapest tests they could find were $75, but even if they were able to allocate these funds, they weren’t sure of the legitimacy of using CARES Act funds for testing.

Since schools reopened, over 300 students have had to quarantine due to an exposure. Bergeson said they have been a “little loose” on how they are handling quarantines. If a student is not exhibiting symptoms, they have been coming back to school, he said, with some exceptions; some parents don’t want to send their kids back to school with the risk.

In addition to the use of early tests to get students more quickly back into the classroom, the board discussed the use of doctor’s notes, but as of yet, neither measures have been approved by the local health department.

Board member Laura Hesson said while she understands information pertaining to the virus continues to change, she doesn’t want to stand out as a district.

“I’m not opposed to making changes,” she said, “but I am not willing to be the first one to go out and say, ‘OK here’s what Washington County is going to do,’ as compared to the rest of the state or the rest of the country. I think that opens us up to liability. And I have to say, we are very fortunate in our area to have the number of cases we have and the number of students we have on quarantine is very low compared to our friends up north.”

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

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