As I have said many times since March 13, 2020, we are in unchartered territory and we learn and adapt as we go forward through this new normal. The past four days have taught us much about COVID-19 screening and reporting and the complexities and challenges it presents to our school operations. So, now as promised I ask for your empathy, resilience and flexibility as we change our course.
Let me begin by saying that we have had NO positive COVID-19 tested individuals on campus. I repeat none... and I need you to let that sink in for a minute. While there has been no positive COVID-19 case, there has been a great deal of activity, mis-understanding, mis-communication, misleading social media posts, all resulting in the creation of unnecessary anxiety on our campus. I have spent the better part of the past four days deconstructing our processes in an attempt to identify what might be causing this response.
To make a very long story short, in addition to some basic communication breakdowns, I believe we have been enacting the CDC recommended practices for responding to test positive COVID -19 individuals for any staff or student that reports any type of symptom that falls anywhere within the CDC screening criteria. Before we knew what happened we were contact tracing, quarantining and disinfecting based on any reported symptoms.
I want to be perfectly clear, no one is to blame for this. Everyone, including myself, thought they were doing the right thing, the cautious thing, the proactive thing. Unfortunately the result was fear of department wide disease spread, upset and distrusting staff, parent upset--- some resulting in withdrawals, requests to shut down classrooms, students being denied the opportunity to board charter buses and being stuck at home for a week and parents being told a student could not ride the day student buses to come to school, not to mention completely over-taxed personnel who were responsible for contacting families regarding this potential “exposure” to symptoms and subsequently contacting all the people that had “close contact" with staff reporting these symptoms, etc. This is what you do when you have a confirmed positive COVID-19 case. It is not what you do for reported symptoms.
Our new procedure changes that and there is a flow chart for health screening that I think will resolve a lot of questions and direct us on more positive path. We will not ask teachers and staff to call HR or the Health Center to report that they are sick. We encourage people to stay home when they are sick and use their sick leave. We will not ask Supervisors or Principals to do follow up when a staff member calls in sick. The responsibility for screening symptoms goes to parents and the staff members. Only they can decide if they need to take a sick day or if they need to take more serious action. I am going to quote two sections of the new procedure that I think are the most relevant and those which I hope we will internalize:
- We want to move to more of a focus on the “classic” COVID-19 symptoms:Fever at / above 100.0 °F, New uncontrolledcough, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, severe muscle aches, severe headache (especially with fever), new loss of taste or smell, diarrhea, vomiting or abdominal pain, chills, and sore throat.
- We want to emphasize that: Having one or more of the above symptoms does not mean you have COVID-19.It is critical that TSD staff and families use their best judgement in this screening process keeping in mind the health and safety of the TSD community. Only you know what is a change from your or your child’s baseline (normal) health functioning and response to becoming ill. COVID-19 challenges us. Its symptoms are things that many of us experience routinely every day or when we occasionally catch a flu bug of some kind and take sick. Added to that challenge is the fact that we live in Austin, Texas, one of the allergy capitals of the world, and once again allergic symptoms mirror the COVID-19 symptoms.
Though we intend to err on the side of caution we do not want to contact trace and quarantine or isolate staff and students unnecessarily.
We are not suggesting in any way that staff or families ignore their symptoms or their children’s symptoms. Quite the opposite we want you to screen yourself and families to screen their children to determine if what they are experiencing is your normal reaction to high counts of mold or a sore throat that accompanies a cold or whether it is one of the more classic symptoms of COVID-19 such as an uncontrollable coughs, or difficulty breathing, etc. We will continue to have the Health Center screen sick students and we are fortunate to have their expertise in doing so, but they will also use our revised guidelines to do so. They will give their professional advice to families and to us it they think something more serious than cold, flu or allergies is happening. We will ask families to do likewise..
The attached procedure covers a lot more than the above topics. I hope you take the time to read it and I hope it will help us move forward in a more productive way. Please direct any questions or concerns to me and I will do my best to respond.
Thank you as always for your patience,