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Three COVID-19 cases confirmed at Warren Middle School

The procedure updates were still in draft form Thursday when Warren Local Schools administration had to shift into direct action following confirmation of coronavirus cases within the consolidated campus.

“I had to talk with a couple of superintendents today … I wanted to ensure that I was interpreting (a new Ohio health order) correctly,” said Warren Local Superintendent Kyle Newton.

While in the midst of legal and peer review comparing interpretations of the Ohio Department of Health “Director’s Order Requiring Reporting and Notification Regarding COVID-19 Cases in Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade Schools,” the first of two confirmation calls rung in.

“I still haven’t been able to finish (writing the district’s newest procedures) because I’m doing it directly,” Newton explained of the document update.

Instead, contact tracing immediately began within the school district.

“Because in some ways we can do the tracing faster, we’re set up already with the ability to know if the child is in the school building, we can quarantine them. We can identify if they ride a bus, we can identify if they’re in an organizational group or on a sports team and we can get a hold of parents,” said Newton. “And we can provide that work and provide all of that contact information and work directly to the health department.”

At the high school, QR codes read by smartphone or tablet even allow room-to-room tracing, he explained.

“So our contact tracing started (Thursday) morning when the school was notified of a positive test,” said Newton. “Then once close contacts are notified, we rely on everything we’ve put in place, and the people of our district to stop the spread further.”

Newton said the district has maintained the consistent position that the situation is not “IF” a positive case arrives within the district, but when.

A second positive confirmation in the afternoon followed the first Thursday, totaling the Warren Middle School tally at three confirmed cases within the building by end of business, with the first positive test confirmation Saturday occurring before the state health order to notify district families and employees took effect Tuesday.

But while contact tracing was still being completed through the afternoon, rumors began to fly on social media.

Newton said he felt as though the earliest local media report on the confirmation had pandered to fears, rather than facts.

“When people are pushing information that’s not true or sensationalizing it — these are kids that we’re dealing with — it’s not helpful, it’s really harmful to the mental health of these kids,” said Newton. “I don’t want students feeling scared or have anxiety over or fearful that they’re doing something wrong or that there’s this monster under the bed. Those are the things that really scare me through this process, the mental health aspect of this.”

With contact tracing completed Thursday afternoon, parents and staff of Warren Local School District were informed of three confirmed cases of coronavirus within the district’s middle school via a state-required letter emailed to parents, teachers, staff and students.

That letter outlines:

¯ The notification is a mandate of the state.

¯ The buildings have been sanitized according to pre-determined protocols instituted before the first positive case was ever reported.

¯ The school district is working in tandem with the Washington County Health Department.

¯ Contact tracing of close contacts to the three positive cases has been completed.

Then, the letter provides a call to action for the district as a whole to rise to its mascot’s call of warriors:

How You Can Help

“Be proactive about reducing the number of interactions that students and staff have with one another by practicing social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart) to limit the spread of COVID-19. In addition to physical distancing, these important tools help to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

¯ Stay home when you are sick.

¯ Wear a mask or face covering while in public places or if people who don’t live with you must visit your home.

¯ Avoid unnecessary gatherings with people who don’t live in your home.

¯ Avoid sharing food, drinks, or utensils.

¯ Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Sing the Happy Birthday song twice to help know when it has been 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol.

¯ Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and then dispose of the tissue and wash your hands immediately. If you do not have a tissue, use your sleeve, not your hands, to cover coughs and sneezes. If you are experiencing cough or congestion, consider staying home and seeking medical care.

¯ Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cleaning of frequently touched surfaces with household cleaners and EPA-registered disinfectants that are appropriate for the surface, following label instructions. A simple bleach solution may also be utilized.

In addition to the letter sent to the warrior family, Newton followed the letter with an informational release to explain the process of contact tracing to parents.

“Before any general or class notification is done, all Close Contacts of the diagnosed COVID-19 case will be personally notified by the Washington County Health Department and/or the district. If you are not personally notified by either of these entities, your child is not a Close Contact,” he wrote. “It is important to understand, transparency is important, however, the district is bound by HIPAA and cannot share specific information. Also, please realize that social media as well as some mainstream media will try to create hysteria and panic; please try to assume positive intention and understand that the district has the best intentions for our students, staff, and community in mind.”

He also explained the timeframe requirements for notification:

¯ Within 24 hours, parents are encouraged to notify the district if their child is diagnosed with COVID- 19.

¯ Within 24 hours, the district must send out, via mass communication, a general notice to the building regarding a diagnosed COVID-19 case of a student or staff.

¯ Within 24 hours, the district must mail a notice to any student regarding a diagnosed COVID-19 case of someone with whom they have a class.

¯ As soon as possible, the district must notify the local health department of a diagnosed COVID-19 case of a student or staff.

What’s next

Newton said now that contact tracing and notification of the district has been completed, additional physical letters are to be mailed to the specific classroom families impacted and he will continue working with peers in the surrounding local school districts to formulate written procedures based off of the order from the state.

He also noted district discussion to secure a separate work cell phone for the district’s nurse to allow for confidential and direct contact between parents of confirmed cases and the nurse.

“And we’re actively receiving applications for another (Licensed Practical Nurse) or greater and will begin conducting interviews soon,” said Newton. “That gives us another person to help not only with the tracing but the regular workload, too.”

The superintendent cautioned families to remain vigilant and do their part, so that buildings, classrooms and the district can remain in-person.

“I don’t want this sensationalized every time there is a positive case,” he said. “School is open. Yes, we run the risk of whole classes, groups, teams or buildings being quarantined, that could always happen. But if we’re not all working together, then we’re all working against each other.”

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