JC Schools’ health director: Re-entry plan is working

Four weeks into the start of school, while Jefferson City School District’s health director made some recommendations Monday, he said the district’s re-entry strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic is working.

Chad Sooter, JC Schools’ director of health services, told the district’s Board of Education he recommended keeping a precautionary eye on sporting events and classroom reading tables as points of contact between people, but he said the district’s plan for having students back in classrooms this fall is working.

“It’s not to keep COVID out of the schools; it’s to mitigate the risk,” Sooter said of the plan — and he credited that generally “everyone is doing what they’re supposed to.”

The district has about 1,400 students learning remotely, with approximately 7,400 more learning in-person.

Sooter ran the board through the contact tracing process when a student is found to be positive.

When a parent calls and notifies a school their child has tested positive, Sooter said he contacts the family to ask when their child was first symptomatic, when they were last in school, when they were tested, and if there are any close friends or other people in the same classrooms that he should be especially aware of in determining who may have had close contact with the student.

Just because someone is identified as a close contact does not necessarily mean that person will be quarantined, he said — that depends on what the contact was like.

For example, Sooter said he’s been able to look at a list of nine contacts of an infected staff member and determine only one person needed to quarantine.

For students, he said he also asks whether the student rides a bus, whether they receive special learning services and whether they participate in any extracurricular activities.

From those kinds of questions, he has to go back 48 hours from the onset of symptoms of COVID-19 or from testing positive — whichever is first — and start the contact tracing process.

He said the process for a middle or high school student takes about two hours; he meets with teachers, visits classrooms and measures the distance between seats.

Sooter also said it’s important to abide by federal health and education confidentiality rules and not disclose the identity of infected people, even if everyone else already knows.

He has a full-time school nurse who can assist him. He said he cannot really pull her from her school duties, but he can get a substitute for her if she’s needed.

“I want to do it as soon as I know about it,” he said of when he starts his contact tracing work once a case is identified.

Also Monday night, JC Schools’ Board of Education approved contracts including the demolition of four additional houses and one foundation near Jefferson City High School for $41,300.

Demolition of 34 houses near Jefferson City High School — most of them damaged by the May 2019 tornado — was completed in the spring.

A competition soccer field and baseball/softball field will eventually be built in the area, though there’s no timeline for completion of the fields because there’s not enough money available to build them.

The demolishing of the additional properties approved Monday will be done by the same company that’s already under contract for other remaining work and has done the other demolitions — Premier Demolition Inc.

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