EAST HADDAM — Last week, East Haddam Public Schools received word that a participant in their summer school programming tested positive for COVID-19.
“When I got the call, I was in a little bit of disbelief because our numbers here are incredibly good,” said Brian Reas, East Haddam superintendent. “But it was good to have a run of the process when there are so few people involved.”
The process – which every school district will follow if they have a staff member or student test positive for COVID-19 – involves extensive contact tracing, two-week quarantines for everyone deemed at risk, a transition to remote education for those involved and a negative test before returning to school.
When anyone tests positive for COVID-19 their local health district, in this case the Chatham Health District, is notified. From there, the school administration is alerted and the process of contact tracing begins. The identity of the infected student or staff member, however, is kept confidential for their privacy.
“We work backwards to get as much information on the contact points for the person who is positive. We assess the potential for the contacts exposure and work with the health district to determine if the individual is then at risk for COVID-19,” Reas said.
In the fall, Reas said, it is possible that the school district would call a remote day for all students and staff in order to accurately and efficiently perform contact tracing when a positive case is found.
Students classified as at-risk, were, and will be, asked to continue their instruction by remote learning. Any teachers involved will continue working, but remotely, and a substitute will be brought in to monitor their classroom.
“We fortunately have remote learning set up for students already in every class. They will just zoom into class each day and then transition back to in-person after two weeks and a negative test,” Reas said.
Reas said that a small pool of substitute teachers will be designated for each school in the district to limit in advance the number of individuals entering schools. Other school districts have decided to hire a handful of permanent substitutes in order to reduce the exposure even more.
The delay between when a test is taken and when an individual result can be confirmed, will require some personal judgement on the part of students and staff who are tested, according to the Chatham Health District.
“If you come into contact with someone you know has COVID then you would very likely quarantine until you received your test result,” Reas said. “If you just have the sniffles and you start to worry it’s COVID, we probably wouldn’t recommend you quarantine until you get your test back.”
East Haddam, like many of its neighboring districts including Lyme-Old Lyme, is still planning to return to a full, in-person model of instruction on September 1, given the low number of cases currently in the region.