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Contact tracing in schools: the in's and out's of how it will work

A team of temporary nurses called the COVID-19 rapid response team is who DCPS will turn to if someone at your child's school has symptoms.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — It's the eve of the school year in Duval County and First Coast News is getting your questions answered so you can feel prepared for the first day.

One parent asked how contact tracing will work in schools. First Coast News questioned officials at the health department and school district to get you those answers.

The question comes from Duval County Public Schools parent Rezell Carbert. Her daughter went through an extensive audition process to get into Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. Then the pandemic happened.

"For a kid who's done so much in dance she's like, 'well I don't want to lose my seat,'" Carbert said. "Because one year in the dance world is very competitive."

Her daughter heads to school in person. But Carbert has seen the coronavirus spread through a home, she says "like wildfire." She has specific questions.

"Should a student become positive with COVID, how are you gonna trace that back?" she asked. "Who's that person that's gonna trace that back? Who's gonna communicate? Because certainly the principals and the teachers and the staff, they're gonna already be overwhelmed."

According to the school system, a team of temporary nurses called the COVID-19 rapid response team is who the district will turn to if someone at your child's school has symptoms. If someone tests positive, contact tracing begins.

First Coast News brought her questions to the Duval County Health Department. Duval County Health Department Incident Commander Tawanda Washington says the hardest part about contact tracing in schools will be the setting and number of people.

"The sheer fact that we're dealing with a large number of people in a congregate-type setting," she said.

Washington says the health department will reach out to you if you or your child are found to be a close contact with someone who has tested positive. A close contact is anyone within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes. They self-quarantine.

A student with symptoms is sent to a designated space in the school and must be picked up to go home within one hour. A nurse from the rapid response team will monitor them.

"Duval County Public Schools will also be providing some staff that will assist with ensuring we have a knowledge base of where children sit in classrooms," Washington said.

That's the rapid response team of nurses. Each nurse will go to up to five schools that do not have full-time medical staff. 

DCPS will not announce a positive case within a school. Doctors advise starting a list of everyone you've been in contact with and staying far from people in public.

First Coast News asked officials at the Duval County Health Department for numbers on how many people they have doing contact tracing. They could not give us a number. Washington says they have enough contact tracers right now. They are hiring.

The Florida Department of Health says Floridians should answer calls from (833) 917-2880, (833) 443-5364 and (850) 583-2419, as part of Florida's comprehensive contact tracing effort.

Washington also urges parents to get their children their immunizations even if they are doing virtual school.

Read DCPS' FAQ's about COVID-19 protocols here.

Credit: DCPS

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