Universal COVID-19 contact tracing ends in schools


Staff Report



The Fulton County Health Department will no longer conduct widespread contact tracing for schools. The decision is due to an Ohio Department of Health recommendation and in collaboration with county schools.

On Jan. 26, Bruce Vanderhoff, Ohio Department of Health director, sent a memo to local health departments and school superintendents throughout the state notifying them of changes.

”The quick spread of the Omicron variant and its rapid clinical course have made universal contact tracing, case investigation and exposure notification impractical when combined with newly reduced timelines for quarantine and isolation,” he said in the memo.

In the memo, the Ohio Health Department recommended that local health departments shift from universal contact tracing, case investigation and exposure notification to a cluster or outbreak-based model.

It also said, schools may discontinue universal contact tracing but are expected to assist local health departments with contact tracing, case investigation and exposure notification related to outbreaks or clusters in schools as determined by the local health department.

The memo continued, “K-12 schools should continue to follow ODH’s protocol, ‘Mask to Stay, Test to Play,’ and allow asymptomatic students to attend school while wearing a mask if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. The best place for kids is in school, in-person, full-time.”

The Fulton County Health Department reported that there has been a encouraging decrease in cases since Mid-January. At the peak of the Omicron variant surge the weekly case total was 694 and last week it was down to 74.

However, the community transmission rate continues to be well above the high level. Fulton County’s case rate was 470 cases per 100,000 on Feb. 10, the last day it was updated.

When using 14 days of data, as is true with Ohio Department of Health’s data dashboard, a level below 100 cases per 100,000 population is needed along with a test positivity below 8% to move a community to a moderate level of community transmission. The most recent data from early this month showed Fulton County test positivity was 16.5%.

In addition to the change in school-related contact tracing, the Ohio Department of Health contractor, PCG, will no longer be conducting contact tracing for individual Fulton County adults. Groups of positive cases, termed outbreaks or clusters, will be the focus of investigation and follow-up by the local health department.

”Despite this change in contact tracing, all residents are asked to be cautious. COVID-19 varies in severity of symptoms,” read a Fulton County Health Department press release. “The virus causing COVID-19 affects everyone differently, and until you are in the midst of disease, it is difficult to predict if you will have a mild case or a severe case with the potential for hospitalization. Parents should assume their child may potentially be exposed to an asymptomatic classmate or staff member with COVID-19 any day they attend school or other crowded indoor settings.”

The most current data indicates that individuals are most likely to spread COVID-19 to others during the 1-2 days before symptoms appear and the first 2-3 days following the day symptoms began.

The Fulton County Health Department is asking residents to take the following steps if they or their child have COVID-19 symptoms:

1. Seek testing. The availability of rapid COVID-19 antigen home tests is variable. Residents are encouraged to order tests through USPS and keep on hand for when needed at https://www.covidtests.gov/.

With the Omicron variant, these tests are most accurate when the person being tested has had symptoms for 24 hours or is tested four to five days after the exposure.

2. Stay home when sick. Persons with COVID-19 should isolate at home for at least five days from the start of symptoms or, if asymptomatic, from the day of a positive test. They can return to their usual activities on day 6 if they’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours without taking a fever-reducing medicine such as Tylenol and their other symptoms are improving. They should wear a mask when around others for an additional five days so that they don’t possibly infect others.

3. Rapidly notify close contacts of their exposure. Close contacts should take several precautions for 10 days after their last date of exposure (when they were within 6 ft. for 15 min. of the person who has COVID-19). They should wear a mask for the next 10 days, especially at work and school.

Ideally, if the close contact is not up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccination or has not tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days, they should quarantine at home for the first five days, especially if the contact is a household member. However, the Ohio Department of Health “Mask to Stay/Test to Play” guidance does not restrict close contacts from attending school if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms. Individuals should test on day 5 after exposure or if they develop symptoms, regardless of how minor. If they develop symptoms or test positive, isolate from others for at least five days from the date of the positive test or onset of symptoms.

4. Contact your usual medical provider if you/your child are at higher risk for severe outcomes, symptoms worsen or symptoms have not improved within five days.

5. Contact the Fulton County Health Department at 419-337-0915 if you have questions about quarantine, isolation or current COVID-19 guidelines.

The level of COVID-19 disease in the community is expected to increase at times and decrease at times. Residents are encouraged to be aware of the level of COVID-19 disease present in your community.

Data resources include the Fulton County Health Department Facebook page and www.fultoncountyhealthdept.com, Ohio Department of Health COVID dashboard, and CDC website.

For more information visit www.fultoncountyhealthdept.com or call your Fulton County Health Department at 419-337-0915

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Staff Report