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Marshall students, staff asked to quarantine after confirmed COVID-19 cases

Notifications based on contact tracing within the schools, officials say

MARSHALL — In an effort to contain the COVID-19 virus and limit its spread, Marshall school officials have directed some students and staff to self-quarantine after positive tests since classes resumed.

As of this week, there are two students in the Marshall Public School district who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in isolation, said Superintendent Jeremy Williams. While there are currently only two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the distrct Williams said about 3.7% of students and staff district-wide — about 110 people — were in quarantine. The total number of people in quarantine was not necessarily linked to the two positive cases, he said.

As a result of the positive COVID-19 cases, MPS has contacted several parents to notify them that their children would also need to self-quarantine for 14 days, and be should tested for COVID-19. The students who needed to quarantine were close contacts of students who tested positive, school officials said.

Williams and MPS school nurses said the decision of which students or staff are asked to quarantine is made through a contact tracing process. The MDH does contact tracing outside of schools, while nurses do contact tracing within Marshall public schools, Williams said.

If a parent or family notifies MPS that a child has COVID-19, the district reports it to the MDH, and school nurses start contact tracing within the school, said school nurse Deb Herrmann. Tracers try to identify people who were closer than six feet away from the infected person for more than 15 minutes at a time, she said.

Students or staff who were in close contact with an infected person need to stay home for 14 days, even if they don’t test positive for COVID-19, Herrmann said.

Herrmann said MPS and other school districts are also using MDH resources like a decision-making tree for when students or staff should stay home from school. If a person shows common symptoms of COVID-19 like a fever, a new cough or difficulty breathing, the MDH says they should stay home or be sent home, and be evaluated or tested for COVID-19. If the person tests positive for COVID-19, or does not get tested, they need to stay at home in isolation for at least 10 days from the time their symptoms started until their symptoms improve, and they’ve had no fever for 24 hours. Siblings and household contacts of the infected person would also need to quarantine for at least 14 days.

The MDH decision tree also gives recommendations for people who had close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. The MDH defines a close contact as a person who was closer than six feet to someone who was infected, for at least 15 minutes. That includes family members living in the same household as the infected person. MDH recommendations say close contacts need to stay home from all activities for at least 14 days since they last had contact with the infected person, even if they don’t test positive for COVID-19.

Williams said MPS didn’t have a specific cutoff point to close schools because of COVID-19. However, he said staff are watching for signs of COVID-19 spreading within schools.

There are some important steps families can take to help slow the spread of coronavirus, school nurse Danielle Brandt said. Families should screen children each day before sending them to school, and be watchful for symptoms of illness. If your child is sick, they should stay home, she said.

MPS is working to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools, and help keep people with underlying conditions safe, Williams and Herrmann said. Herrmann said school nurses have been in regular contact with the MDH since March. “They have tried to keep us up to date,” she said.

Williams said one of his fears this year is that MPS may face a shortage of substitute teachers.

“We’ve been covering (our needs) so far,” he said, but the district has had fewer substitutes than normal this year. Some substitute teachers might not be willing to go back to school this year, he said — many substitutes are retired, and may be in high-risk categories for COVID-19.

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