Greene County using federal stimulus funds to supplement contact tracing in schools

Greene County is using a portion of its $33 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to supplement contact tracing in schools, which for the last three months has shifted some of the burden off of teachers and administrators.

Prior to the program, school district teachers and staff had been spending an “inordinate amount of time” doing contact tracing, which takes time out of helping children, county administrator Brandon Huddleson said. Between their normal responsibilities and contact tracing, it would take up to six days for parents to learn that their child needed to quarantine.

“We thought, rather than decide how to help schools, we should go ask schools what they needed,” Huddleson said. “I came away with the understanding that if we were going to help schools, this was the way to do it.

“Really, it’s a win-win all around; the county partnering with schools, the health district, and getting that information back to parents and allowing educators to focus on their core mission,” he added.

The money brought on five contract tracers for Greene County Public Health, dedicated to the county’s seven school districts plus the Greene County Career Center. If a child had been exposed to COVID-19, parents could instead be contacted the same day.

“The goal is to reach out to parents, let them know where [the exposure] was, what are the circumstances, symptoms to watch for, and if they still need quarantine outside of school,” said public health nurse Samantha Webb.

The partnership doesn’t solve the problem completely. Schools still need to follow up with parents for things like homework, football practice, and other extracurriculars. However, initial results indicated parents were able to get information they needed much more quickly, and that staff, particularly school nurses, were able to focus more on their work.

“School nurses took off their normal duties, but also superintendents and teachers and administrators were having to go along with what constitutes a positive case,” said Greene Educational Services Center superintendent Terry Graves-Strieter, who in August was making some of those calls herself.

“Even if they could make the initial calls and we follow up to see if students have to be quarantined, it could take even a little off of their shoulders,” she said.

Greene County received its first $16 million trench of ARPA monies earlier this year, with another $16 million to be disbursed in 2022. For Sept 1 thru Oct. 31, the program cost $25,000. The commissioners may extend the program through the rest of the school year, with an estimated cost of $300,000, as long as schools are getting value out of it.

Ohio’s Mask to Stay policy, which allows children exposed to COVID to remain in the classroom as long as they wear a mask, and increased vaccine availability for kids may affect how school districts move forward from here, Graves-Strieter said.

“The fact that the county collaborated with us and wanted to know how they could help with this health situation we’ve been dealing with for over a year now, we appreciate that,” she said. “We’ll have to see what it looks like through the holidays.”

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