COVID-19 SCHOOL GATING FAQ Updated 10/2/2020
When it comes to school gating, who makes decisions?
• In late August, KDHE and the Kansas Department of Education provided COVID-19 gating guidelines to all Kansas health departments and schools.
• Based on these guidelines, the Reno County Health Department, Reno County Superintendents, and Hutchinson Clinic jointly defined the metrics/data we would commonly use.
• The Reno County Health Department tracks information, interprets data, and provides information to superintendents each Wednesday (preliminary) and Friday (final).
• School districts interpret information and make final decisions on how it impacts their individual districts in terms of learning modality, safety modifications, school activities, and facilities. School districts will typically make announcements on Fridays if the “gate” is changing for the following week. They may make announcements earlier than Friday, if the preliminary report solidly points to a particular gate.
What data is used for school gating?
• We look at two criteria:
o 14-day new case count
o 14-day positive test rate (based on date specimen was collected) – assuming at least 1.8% of the population (about 565 people) is tested within that timeframe
• Each of these metrics on its own presents a cloudy view of the situation, so we look at them in tandem to understand whether the virus is increasing in prevalence. For example:
o The 14-day positive test rate could be skewed if we are testing too few people, so we need to have at least 565 tests (1.8% of population) during the 14-day period for this measure to be useful.
o The 14-day new case count could present a skewed view if many new cases are known contacts of one individual and are already quarantined.
Are inmate numbers included?
• No, inmate cases are not included in the 14-day positive test rate or 14-day new case count. All other positive cases are included.
Where and when are the school gating data reported?
• We currently report twice per week to superintendents via email:
o Wednesday (preliminary) – looks at data ending the prior Friday. For example, the September 30 report covers the period of Saturday, Sept. 12 through Friday, Sept. 25.
o Friday (final) -- looks at data ending the prior Sunday. For example, the October 2 report covers the period of Monday, Sept. 14 through Sunday, Sept. 27.
o It takes time for case information to be updated in the KDHE system, which is why we wait several days before pulling a report. For example, if testing becomes backed up, a specimen collected on a Friday may not be reported as a positive until Thursday.
• We are working to publicize this information via the Reno County COVID-19 dashboard, daily situation report email, and Reno County Emergency Management social media. When the dashboard for Reno County data was created, the gating criteria for schools had not yet been established.
Why do the numbers of new cases on the Reno County COVID-19 Dashboard not match what is reported for schools to use?
• When the dashboard was created, we based it on 7-day metrics. The school gating guidelines had not yet been created. We are working to publish the 14-day school gating metrics on an ongoing basis.
How many people have been tested?
• Over the summer, we tested about 300-350 people per week. In September, we added free community testing, and the number increased to 400-500 per week. We are striving to test more than 500 people per week so that the 14-day positive test rate metric will be more valid.
• You can find daily testing counts (which excludes inmates) on the Reno County COVID-19 Dashboard: http://reno.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html...
Does community testing decrease the 14-day positive test rate?
• So far, community testing has lowered the 14-day positive test rate significantly. For example, on the October 2 report:
o PTR with community testing: 13.7>#/p###
o PTR without community testing: 23>#/p###
• Aside from free community testing, the people being tested are mostly those experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms, hospital/pre-op patients, and a few individuals required to be tested for other reasons. It is a small pool, and the likelihood of a person with symptoms testing positive is much higher than a person who is not experiencing any symptoms or had any known exposure. We want to give a more accurate picture of virus circulation among the total Reno County population by testing a large enough sample to be statistically useful.
How many people are you wanting to test through community testing?
• We would like to test 250-350 per week. We encourage all Reno County residents who are not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms to volunteer for testing—ideally from every community in the county.
• We will be adding testing locations throughout the county in October.
Why should we do more testing?
• Testing shows us the bigger picture of what is going on with the virus. A positive test helps us slow the spread. The earlier we can catch a positive case, have a person isolate, and have close contacts quarantine, the fewer people will be exposed. This prevents the virus from spreading.
• For example, if one person infects just two people, and those two people each infect another two people, it doesn’t take long for 20 people to be infected.
How many people have tested positive through the community testing program?
• In September 2020, 14 people who participated in community testing were positive out of 893 tests – a 1.5% positive test rate.
If a school building doesn’t have any cases but the county level is elevated, why limit class sizes or change anything?
• School gating is not only about virus suppression, but also prevention. Schools inherently have mass gatherings every day, and it can become the breeding ground for the virus in an instant. The best way to keep our schools open for full-time face-to-face learning in the long term is to prevent a cluster from developing in the first place. Going to a hybrid model as a preventative measure could help avoid a cluster of positives that perpetuates for weeks and months.
• School districts are not islands—staff, students, and parents are constantly leaving “home base” for work, groceries, children’s activities, and social activities. If the county positive test rate and number of cases is growing, the risk is growing for everyone, no matter where in the county you live. This is a community-wide problem, not a single district or single school problem.
• Just one student can trigger a cluster. A high school student in an activity can easily have 30-50 close contacts. Mitigating the number of contacts will slow the spread.
Do we have rapid tests available?
• Yes, limited supplies of the rapid test platform are available at the Hutchinson Clinic and should be available at Prairie Star by mid-late October. Rapid testing supplies may be limited at times depending on demand, but nasal swab testing is always available.
How does RCHD decide to quarantine? Is it true you quarantine presumed positives?
• Please read our full quarantine FAQ at https://www.renogov.org/766/Quarantine-Isolation
• Quarantine is exclusively for individuals deemed “close direct contacts” of COVID-19 positive individuals. It involves staying at home for 14 days (from last contact) and if possible, staying away from people living in the same residence.
• A “close contact” is someone who generally…
• Was within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 10 minutes or more
• Provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19
• Had direct physical contact with the positive person (ex: hugged or kissed them)
• Shared food or drink with the person
• Was sneezed on, coughed on, or somehow got respiratory droplets on them from the positive person
• In reality, situations are not clear cut, so the Reno County Health Department’s contact tracers will evaluate your specific scenario. For example, if you were in contact with a COVID-19 positive person in very tight quarters for a less than 10 minutes (a car ride), or more than 6 feet away for an extended time (an enclosed room for many hours, like a classroom, meeting room, or shared office), you will likely qualify as a close contact.
• RCHD does everything we can to have a positive PCR test on an individual that we are looking at in the school setting. However, per KDHE guidelines, we quarantine direct contacts of individuals who are probable cases. A probable case is defined as having known exposure, plus has two or more symptoms of COVID-19.
How does increased testing help schools and our community?
• The more we test, the more we can slow the spread of COVID-19 through early identification and isolation of positive cases and quarantining their close contacts.
• It also helps us have a more accurate picture of the virus prevalence in the community, so that we can make better decisions.
When is an individual contagious?
• We consider an individual to be contagious from two days prior to showing symptoms through ten days after symptom onset.
Does an COVID-19 positive asymptomatic person spread the virus?
• People with COVID-19 may not have symptoms, but they may still spread the virus, especially if they are not taking measures to protect others through social distancing, wearing a mask, being with others in poorly ventilated spaces, frequently washing hands, and so on. The research on the extent to which asymptomatic positives are contagious is unclear.
Why does wearing a mask not keep me out of quarantine if I am exposed?
• Masks are a tool to minimize spread of the virus. Different masks vary in effectiveness, and most fall short of being 100 percent fail safe. Few citizens have the personal protective equipment and training on proper use that would ensure 100 percent containment should they suddenly develop COVID-19 symptoms.