San Diego area district warns of students coming to school after receiving positive COVID results

Some students have “attended school with symptoms present or, in a few limited cases, students attending school with known positive test results for COVID-19.”

This alarming phrase comes from an update that Andy Johnsen, superintendent of the San Marcos Unified School District, sent to all parents on September 10. He pointed out that less than 1% of the district’s roughly 20,000 students have so far tested positive for coronavirus infection. , and aggressive on-site testing, contact tracing and quarantine protocols aim to keep those numbers low.

But the thought that even a few were showing up with positive tests in their back pockets, or symptoms that could indicate the presence of the virus that so many people work so hard to keep at bay, clearly struck a nerve, pushing the perpetrator. education to remind everyone “that we are working together to keep our case rates low.” “

The district later said only two students came to the school after testing positive and, after more than a week of researching its own records, was unable to say exactly how its internal system of testing and contact tracing had uncovered the cases.

That’s not the case, Johnsen noted in an interview last week, as real-time pandemic tracking is a core skill of U.S. education systems. San Marcos, he said, has hired more staff and expanded its operations, but perfection is impossible when there are so many uncontrolled variables in the real world.

“We have a great team working on this, and I think they’re working really well,” Johnsen said. “In the vast majority of situations we catch things very quickly, but with over 19,000 students you can have a very small handful like this.

“We need the public to help us here. “

The lack in San Diego County of a unified school case notification system – state policy directs each district to manage its own coronavirus investigations – makes it difficult to know how bad the problem is. is widespread. An informal survey of the region’s largest districts found no claim to have uncovered similar situations students have entered after testing positive.

All said they were watching their students for symptoms, sending children and adults home for coughs, headaches and other signs that an infection could set in. Testing is required for close contact, although a student’s immunization status often influences whether quarantine is required for close contact.

But it’s clear that the reach of school district-based surveys is only expanding so far. Some children may be tested by local health providers who do not work directly with their district of origin. And students or staff may have been exposed at social events that others don’t attend in that home district, meaning contact tracing events that start with students may not immediately find out. those that were on display at a birthday party, church gathering, or play date in town.

Those who have followed the past two years will know that there is a vital piece of the disease tracking puzzle that should fill any potential gap. All coronavirus test results are sent to the county epidemiology department, which notifies school districts if their students have tested positive. The county also conducts its own contact tracing surveys, which can fill in gaps school systems can’t see.

But the county health department’s investigations rely on prompt sending of positive test results from test providers for further measurements.

The California Department of Public Health requires labs to report results to local public health authorities within eight hours, but this doesn’t always happen.

A year and a half after the start of the pandemic, there is still significant variability in the speed at which new positives reach the public health department. This reality was clearly visible in Wednesday’s weekly COVID-19 update which listed 851 new cases on Tuesday. But a double asterisk next to that number indicates that some of those positive results arrived in a batch that, if they had arrived more quickly, “would have been reported” from September 14-20.

The county has confirmed in a series of emails that it takes anywhere from half a day to nearly four days for its epidemiology department to notify districts of positive tests among its students, the average being 1.7 days.

But those numbers don’t include delays in reporting from testing labs. Those who have yet to acquire electronic reporting capabilities, especially small labs, the county said in a statement, are more likely to use “batch reports or queued results.”

“Reporting of results to the county varies among individual labs, with those with the fastest interfaces being the fastest to communicate the results. Those where an intermediate collection team and a laboratory are involved often have a longer turnaround time.

Locality, the county continued, is the primary determining factor that gets its results the fastest. The majority of local results, the county said, come from local health providers who test their own patients, the county’s own public health lab, or local testing contractor Helix Diagnostics. All, according to the county statement, have quick notification times.

However, some samples can take a long journey after being collected, which can have a significant impact on notification times.

“Many of the labs used by local medical communities are out-of-state reference labs, and the state has limited influence on the timeliness of their reports,” the county statement said.

About Colin Shumway

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