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Johnson County says contact tracing in schools is ‘no longer feasible’ — what that means for kids

File Photo
Shawnee Mission Post
With new cases increasing to record highs, Johnson County health officials have told school districts that "intensive contact tracing in schools is no longer feasible."

The flood of new COVID-19 cases has made it practically impossible for county officials and school nurses to keep up with the task of tracking down who an infected person may have been in contact with.

Amid a record surge in COVID-19 cases, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment has told local school districts that “intensive contact tracing within schools is no longer feasible.”

The flood of new cases, fueled in part by the highly contagious omicron variant, has made it practically impossible for JCDHE officials and school nurses to keep up with the often time-consuming task of tracking down who an infected person may have been in contact with.

JCDHE says, instead, priority should now be given to identifying positive cases and isolating them.

This means families will no longer be informed if their child may have come into close contact with an infected person, according to a statement emailed by Blue Valley district officials to families this week.

Given the strain on public resources, the email said, “Blue Valley will no longer be providing JCDHE close contact information and JCDHE will no longer notify staff/students if they are a close contact from a school exposure.”

Shawnee Mission Superintendent Michelle Hubbard echoed much the same sentiment on the University of Kansas Health Systems’ daily COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

“We have been told by the county — and we strongly agree with them on this — that we will no longer be focusing on contact tracing,” Hubbard said. “Quite frankly, we can’t keep up. We’ll do our absolute best but right not, we have to fall back on those layers of mitigation [to stop spread].”

Those “layers” of mitigation include continuing to wear masks around others and physically distancing when possible.

Schools and JCDHE are also encouraging families to get their children fully vaccinated and, if eligible, boosted.

Here's how the decision might affect children and parents:

Will we be told if our child is exposed at school?

  • Maybe not, which is why district officials are encouraging families and students to keep a close eye on their own health.
  • For instance, Blue Valley asks families to “remain diligent in conducting a personal health assessment each day,” and if a child doesn’t feel well, they urge families to keep them home.

Can my child still get tested through the school?

  • Both Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission do have “Test to Stay” programs, which allow students who are known to have had close contact with a positive case to stay in school as long as they themselves test negative.
  • But this is only for students who have been identified as a close contact of a positive case.
  • Blue Valley encourages families to set up testing appointments with MAWD labs in Overland Park.
  • Shawnee Mission runs a centralized testing hub six days a week at the district’s Broadmoor Center, more details of which can be found here.

But what if my child is asymptomatic? Can they still get tested at school?

  • With fewer resources being devoted to contact tracing in schools, asymptomatic children are likely to be tested less frequently, if at all, going forward.
  • Outside school, finding testing appointments and at-home tests is also proving increasingly difficult in Johnson County, but here is where you can start to look for some.
  • JCDHE does offer a weekly drive-thru testing clinic every Wednesday. You can schedule an appointment here.
  • The Kansas Department of Health and Environment also operates two drive-thru testing sites in Johnson County.

Does my child still have to wear a mask?

  • All schools serving up to and including 6th graders in Johnson County still require masks, in compliance with a countywide public health order that was upheld by the county commission Thursday.
  • Most middle and high schools in Shawnee Mission are now requiring masks once again after high rates of COVID-19 transmission were detected at those schools on the first day of classes of the new semester Wednesday.
  • Bottom line, even where it’s not required districts are still encouraging students to wear masks in order to prevent spread of COVID-19, especially if you may think you have been exposed.
  • JCDHE recommends that if your child has been exposed to a positive case, to wear masks at all times around others for at least 10 days following the exposure.

What if my child is vaccinated?

  • If you child has been vaccinated, this generally makes it easier for your child to stay in school if they have been exposed to a positive case.
  • If your child is vaccinated, JCDHE recommends your child still wear a mask around others for at least 10 days after the potential exposure in order to prevent potential spread to others.
  • If possible, get your child tested on the fifth day after exposure. If they test positive or start so show symptoms, then you should keep them home from school.

What if my child feels sick, but I can’t get them tested?

  • Keep them at home, if you can.
  • Districts and public health officials repeatedly warn that if your child is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or feeling sick — especially headaches and coughing — then keeping them at home away from others is the best way to prevent further spread.
Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
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