Central District Health Department and Northwest Public Schools officials disagree over how events unfolded with Northwest students being quarantined due to a COVID-19 exposure.
In an email to The Independent Tuesday morning in response to a protest by Northwest parents held at the CDHD board meeting Monday night, Northwest Superintendent Jeff Edwards said CDHD did not do contact tracing prior to quarantining more than 100 Northwest students.
During the protest Monday night, Northwest parents raised concerns about the CDHD’s response to a positive COVID-19 case in the school district.
In a series of emails, snippets of which were provided to The Independent by Edwards, at 4:37 p.m. Aug. 27, Anderson emailed Edwards saying they had “begun the calls” and, upon consultation with the state epidemiologist, all students on the roster list provided by the school district — as well as eight teachers — needed to quarantine.
Edwards said teachers were not interviewed as part of the contact tracing process until the morning of Aug. 28, but the students were quarantined at 4:37 p.m. Aug. 27, according to the emails from Anderson.
“I brought the teachers into my office and had them on speakerphone (that) Friday with her (Anderson) and her lead nurse,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “That is when they confirmed at 2:04 p.m. Friday (Aug. 28) that they were going to quarantine all kids.”
Edwards said the more than 100 Northwest students quarantined have since returned to school.
Anderson said, contrary to Edwards’ claims, CDHD staff members did contact trace before the quarantine was ordered.
“When we have a positive case, we have to make sure that person is out of the classroom,” she said. “Then, we investigate to see who is in close contact. Then, based on that investigation, we quarantine.
“We interviewed the teachers, we identified the people who were in close contact and then we asked them to quarantine. The trick in doing successful contact tracing and quarantine is to do it as quickly as possible so that people are not further exposed.”
Health department guidelines define “close contact” as coming within 6 feet of a person with the virus for more than 15 minutes.
Edwards said that while it is true that CDHD does not have the power to implement a mask mandate in schools, he feels Northwest was “100% forced” into its mandate.
“When you come in and quarantine 100-plus students at a time, it is not hard to read between the lines,” he said. “We are in a mask mandate because the implications of the interpretations being made by the CDHD.”
Anderson said she disagrees with Edwards’ assessment, that it is not CDHD’s role to mandate masks and that it does not have the authority to do so.
“We have limited power in a pandemic that centers around quarantine and isolation,” she said. “We can make recommendations, but we cannot force anyone into a mask mandate. I clearly stated to all of our superintendents that the schools are a purview of the administration and the board. We cannot mandate anything within the school system; we can only recommend it.”
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