Navigating the rough waters of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the key concern of the Goliad Independent School District in 2021, successfully keeping students in classrooms for much of the ongoing academic year. To continue sailing through the tough seas, there needs to be a plan in place to run a tight ship, with such plans being detailed at a Feb. 9 meeting of the Board of Trustees.
At the beginning of the meeting, a concerned resident brought up a question regarding close contact tracing at the school, noting that her child had been exposed to a COVID-19 positive student while in a GISD classroom. The resident wondered what happens in the case of a close contact such as that specific situation.
GISD nurse Kristin Russel was at the meeting to alleviate concerns, going through the school district’s policies regarding COVID-19 contact tracing.
Russel is in control of all contact tracing for the district, creating an online log with notes on who has reported a positive case, who has been tested, and who is or is not properly wearing a mask within GISD doors.
If a student tests positive for the virus on a GISD campus, a school messenger is sent out to all staff members, while every student on the campus receives a notification call. Legal restrictions prevent the district from giving specifics on the positive case, but officials give proper notice to the involved parties.
“You have to be very careful with what you say, you cannot give any identifying information,” GISD Superintendent Stacy Ackley said.
From there, contact tracing for the positive case would begin, starting with gathering a list of potential close contacts for the student or staff member that tested positive. Then, Russel narrows the list down to those who do not regularly wear their masks in class, and letting the appropriate parties know that they require quarantine and/or COVID-19 testing.
Teachers at Goliad Elementary School, for example, do a mask check every 30 to 60 minutes during instruction time, giving Russel notes on who should be prioritized in contact tracing.
“They let us know if that student is very good about keeping their mask on while in class, or if they’re one of the few that does not leave their mask on,” she said.
Positive tests are reported to county officials the same day they are received by the district, with the county giving information to the state. Contact tracing information is also shared by the district with Region 8 health officials.
The biggest challenge in keeping the district’s plan aligned is the input of parents and guardians, with Russel saying there has been a “lack” of consistent contact between parents and the district.
“I have to have these parents be honest or responsible, this isn’t going to work if I don’t have everyone’s help in it, it’s a lot for one person,” Russel said.
One factor of cooperation is the fact that a parent or guardian may be sick, potentially with COVID-19, and send their students to school anyway, not knowing if there is a more serious situation afoot due to close exposure at home.
“The only way for that to work properly is if the parents continue to communicate if they have a positive test or if they have a kid sick,” Russel said. “It’s very important.”
As of the Feb. 9 meeting, the most students at one given time testing positive for the virus was less than 1 percent of the GISD population. In the 2020-21 academic year, 3.7 percent of GISD students have been afflicted with a virus case. The total staff afflicted at one time in the 2020-21 year has been 1.5 percent of staff population, with 7.8 percent of staff overall having the virus at one time or another.
Typically, district-wide shutdowns occur when more than 10 percent of the student or staff population is contracted with the virus at one time.
“Our safety, our health plan is working for our kids,” Ackley said. “The custodial staff is working to make sure they are cleaning every night, that staff has moved to night shifts. They come in and fumigate, clean, so every morning when we start off, even if there was someone that was a positive case the day before that was already in school ... it’s already been sanitized.”
Another part of the safety plan deals with GISD staff and administration, who check their temperature and symptoms before arriving to work. Students are also screened daily using thermometers and questioning.
“We do daily checks for all employees, they have to fill out a document,” Ackley said. “They have that document sent to them at 6 a.m. every morning, that’s their wake-up call.”