Answers to COVID-19 questions as school begins

The school year kicks off this week for many in Fulton County with a different feel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Fulton County Health Department has shared answers to a list of frequently asked questions regarding school settings. Some of the questions are below:

Q: The Fulton County Schools’ Common Reopening Agreement states, “Communication will be shared per Health Department protocol.” What is the Health Department protocol for communication being shared?

A: Any communication that occurs due to a COVID-19 case among staff or students will be done in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and any other state/federal rule related to these situations. The name of the individual/staff will not be publicly shared. A communication template has been developed and may be appropriate to share depending on the situation and number of exposed persons. The case, parent/guardian and the school administration will all be contacted. The goal of this communication is to ensure isolation of symptomatic persons and identify close contacts so that they can be quarantined (without symptoms), monitored, and tested if appropriate.

Q: What does the Fulton County Health Department consider “exposure” to COVID 19 to be? If a member’s doctor has a different standard for exposure, is that going to be a problem?

A: FCHD uses CDC guidance when determining exposure to a confirmed or possible case of COVID-19. If someone has been exposed to a COVID-19 case, our investigation will determine if they meet criteria that would qualify them as a close contact.

A close contact is generally defined as someone who is within 6 feet of an infectious person for 15 minutes or more. However, other factors may play a role in determining if someone is a close contact. These are factors typically identified during case investigation, and so they may be case-dependent. Examples would be sharing a kiss, using the same utensil, or having been coughed on (directly in the face).

Infectiousness is generally considered 48 hours prior to symptom onset (or for an asymptomatic case that is positive via a diagnostic test –48 hours prior to specimen collection) through the 10th day after illness onset (this is usually longer in situations of severe/critical illness or when someone is severely immunocompromised). A person’s physician does not usually determine if they are a close contact. However, if there is a discrepancy, discussion between the physician and the local health department may be warranted.

Q: What will be the expectations for members who have tested positive for COVID 19?

A: The Fulton County Health Department will require all individuals who have tested positive to isolate according to CDC/ODH guidelines. Each time a case is reported to the local health department, contact is made with the case. Sometimes this may take time depending on the situation and how quickly results are received and how quickly a call is returned. During the case investigation, we will ask about illness onset and recent activities to determine where the case would have become infected. Once we have gathered all the necessary information, we will determine how long the person must remain in isolation (home and away from others).

Q: What will be the expectations for members who have been exposed to COVID 19?

A: Individuals determined to be close contacts of an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 will be asked to quarantine (no symptoms)/isolate (symptoms) according to CDC/ODH guidelines. Close contacts should be quarantined for 14 days from the date of their last exposure, where day 0 is the date of last known exposure.

Q: What will the Fulton County Health Department do when a staff member or student tests positive for COVID 19?

A: The case investigation begins with a conversation with the individual who tested positive or their emergency contact. The school administration would be contacted and determination of close contacts would be completed. Phone numbers and addresses would be obtained to enable the health department to communicate with the close contacts.