Behind the scenes of quarantine

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Ella Davies

Dr. Michael Havener follows contract tracing procedures by measuring 6 feet between desks after a positive test.

Students anxiously wonder if they are going to get the call. Pulling up their mask, they step out of the car. With fear of a possible shutdown in mind, the students forget about the discomfort from the masks that they will have to endure for the next four hours. They proceed into the building hoping to be able to return to school the next day.

Students finally made their way back into the halls of KHS Nov. 9 after 11 weeks of online learning. With her first day of in-person learning complete, Krista Steele, senior, was in her basement playing Call of Duty when her parents got the message that she would have to be quarantined. For the next 14 days, Steele would be unable to return to campus due to her exposure to a student who tested positive for COVID-19 in one of her classes.

“It was not fun because it [is] my senior year, and I am a very social person, so I really wanted to be at school,” Steele said. “But why get super upset about something you can’t really control? We don’t need to focus on having a normal year, instead we need to focus more on keeping people safe and healthy.”

Being placed in quarantine has been relatively common since the pandemic has made its way into Kirkwood. Over the summer when people started coming back to campus for fall sports, KHS adopted a system for contact tracing positive cases on campus. Falling under the jurisdiction of St. Louis County, KHS is required to follow the recommendations set by County Executive Dr. Sam Page. 

According to St. Louis County guidelines, any person within six feet of someone who tested positive for 15 minutes or more is considered a close contact. Those who have met this requirement within the last 48 hours of the positive student’s symptoms would begin their quarantine period. If one of these close contacts were to test positive, then they must quarantine for 10 to 14 days after their positive test and be cleared by a physician before ending their quarantine and returning back to campus. Students are still put on a 14-day quarantine if they are not showing symptoms. Despite the CDC recently changing the number of days a person should quarantine, KHS continues to follow the recommendations of St. Louis County. But, what exactly goes on when a student on campus tests positive? 

First, contact tracing starts with the report of a positive case via phone call or email to the nurse, a grade level principal or KHS principal Dr. Michael Havener. Once the positive case is verified, depending on the time the student’s test came back and when they were on campus, the administration begins their contact tracing methods. 

Contact tracing begins with the seating charts being printed out for all the classes the student attended in the last 48 hours. From there, Havener or a grade level principal goes into each of the positive student’s classrooms with a six-foot-long pole to measure distances between desks. Any students’ chair that comes within the six foot radius of the pole is documented and the student is put under quarantine precautions.

Sometimes I am [at KHS] when no one else is.”

— Dr. Michael Havener

“Sometimes I am [at KHS] when no one else is,” Havener said. “It takes time to get [to school]. It takes time to print out and get all the seating charts. It takes time to physically go into each room, and not just base [quarantine decisions] off the seating chart. It has definitely been very, very busy.” 

A list of potential exposures is made and sent to the grade level office of the student who tested positive. The grade level office proceeds to email quarantine letters to each of the students who were exposed. Attached in the email is the date of possible exposure and the date in which students are allowed to return to in-person learning at KHS. To ensure the quarantine alert is read, additional text messages are also sent out to the parents and students of those who need to quarantine. 

“It’s sad that I have gotten used to [not seeing students because they are quarantined], and it’s sad that it [has] become almost the new norm,” Carolyn Fogarty, KHS math teacher, said. “My biggest thing is that I try to get copies to my students and prepare them as much as possible [in case someone needs to quarantine].”

The same contact tracing procedures occur for teachers as with students. Teachers are asked to quarantine if they were within 6 feet of a student who tested positive for a total of 15 minutes or more. If a teacher needs to be quarantined, then the district needs to find a substitute.

Aside from new contact tracing policies, there are other precautions being taken around KHS. Regardless of if there is a positive test or not, special cleaning goes on when students and staff are not on campus. At the end of the day, the custodial staff sprays down each classroom with disinfectant to clean the surfaces and limit the potential spread of COVID-19. The key goals of these precautions are to do whatever it takes to give students the opportunity to continue attending school. Although the custodial staff has received more responsibilities now than ever because of the pandemic, there is no additional pay for their dealing with COVID-19 issues.

It is one of those [situations] where you feel like you’re dreaming and all of a sudden you’re going to wake up and it’s all going to be back to normal. I’m ready to wake up.”

— Carolyn Fogarty

Administrators work around the clock to ensure safety for students, staff and their families. Contact tracing precautions must be followed quickly and properly to make sure exposed students are notified, stay home and begin the quarantine process. At the same time, students must also obey the proper health guidelines. Maintaining a 6 feet distance when possible, wearing masks and using disinfectants can be essential factors, according to the CDC, in stopping the spread of COVID-19. 

“Students come in, they wear their masks right, and they are doing the right thing,” Fogarty said. “They want to be in school, so they are going to follow the rules because they know how quickly someone can get quarantined. It is one of those [situations] where you feel like you’re dreaming and all of a sudden you’re going to wake up and it’s all going to be back to normal. I’m ready to wake up.”