As more teachers and students return to the classroom, the Springfield school district is adding resources to track potential COVID-19 exposures.
Springfield City Council approved a plan Monday to expand the city’s contract with a third-party vendor, Maximus Federal Services Inc., to provide the additional help.
The district agreed to pay $152,502 to expand the city’s existing contract of $2.7 million, which runs through Feb. 12, to hire five contact tracers and one operations manager.
“We’ve had such a great relationship with Springfield Greene County Health Department and they have been so great to work with us. It has been a partnership and this is just an expansion of that partnership,” said Jean Grabeel, director of health services for Springfield Public Schools.
“They have been able to follow up other contacts that would not be within the school setting. And that is what we would expect that this would help us to do.”
Contact tracers interview individuals infected with COVID-19 to identify “close contacts” who may have been exposed. They are instructed to quarantine and monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.
To this point, school nurses have been primarily responsible for contact tracing infected students and employees in the district.
“As soon as we are notified that someone is positive, we start immediately with looking at those that would be a direct contact,” Grabeel said. “Sometimes they find out over the weekend and then we find out on Monday that they are positive.”
Amid the pandemic, the district hired eight additional nurses to provide added support in middle and high schools.
“When you are doing contact tracing in the school setting, you are looking at who are those direct school contacts,” Grabeel said. “For example, if it is a student within a classroom we are looking at those seated within six feet. The teachers have seating charts.”
Grabeel said the district has concentrated on potential exposures within the school setting involving students or employees.
She said the services available by expanding the city contract will cover the cost of any contact tracing involving individuals outside of the school setting.
“We still have the details to work out,” she said. ” … We will be meeting very quickly with the health department to say ‘OK, now, here is the procedures.”
Springfield parents were given two choices at the start of the fall semester — sign their children up for full-time virtual learning or enroll in a hybrid model including two days of in-person learning each week and three days of virtual learning.
In early November, the district moved hybrid students in K-8 from two to four days of in-person learning. Students in grades 9-12 are still attending in-person only two days a week, a model that is expected to remain in place at the start of the spring semester.
The district posts a tally of COVID-19 cases from the prior week each Monday. During the past five weeks, the district has logged 322 new cases including 189 students and 133 employees.
Top district officials have repeatedly said contact tracing to this point shows efforts to mitigate spread in schools have largely been successful and there is limited evidence of transmission in the school setting.
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.