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Utah Parents Concerned About Contract Tracing Delays In Schools

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah – Utah’s surge in COVID-19 cases has many parents questioning school policies about notifying and quarantining students.

The Letoe family in Taylorsville is one of them.

“She should have been quarantined, but she wasn’t,” said Lani Letoe. They got a letter from Bennion Elementary School stating a child in their granddaughter’s class had tested positive, but there was no need to quarantine.

They said the next day, the teacher informed them the child sat right next to their granddaughter and she’d been exposed.

But it wasn’t until after school Thursday that they got word their granddaughter needed to quarantine.

“She was exposed and she could have exposed others by staying in class,” said Letoe.

They, like others, wondered why it takes so long to verify COVID-19 cases and why schools don’t seem to be protecting students and their families.

“Right now, there’s no trust with parents and the staff and school system if this is how they’re going to handle this,” said Isaako Letoe.

School administrators see the emotional toll COVID-19 and exposure notices take on students. But policies require them to follow specific — and sometimes time-consuming — procedures.

“We get emails from parents saying, my son or daughter just tested positive, but don’t act on that,” said Mike Moss, assistant principal of Woods Cross High School.

Schools are required to wait for official notification from their local health department that a student has tested positive. It is against HIPAA privacy laws for educators to release that kind of information.

“You can see the mess it would cause if everyone is speculating,” said Brian Hatch, director of the Davis County Health Department.

Health department officials in Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties said they notify schools of positive cases within 24 hours.

Then, schools begin the contact tracing process. Educators determine by seating chart who sat within six feet of the sick student for more than 15 minutes. Those students get an email and phone call.

Officials with the Murray, Canyons, Granite, Provo and Davis school districts all said they send those exposure notices within 24 hours.

Even with prompt follow up, the process takes the better part of a week.

Davis School District is perhaps the only district that has hired COVID-19 aides in every school — 140 in all. The district and health department invested $1.2 million in federal CARES funding to have an aide on-site during school hours.

COVID-19 aides free up faculty from the hours it takes to investigate possible exposures.

“I have got to ask the teacher what activities did you do that day? Were students up out of their seats moving around?” said Brayden Hoehne, COVID-19 aide at Woods Cross High.

School leaders understand parents’ frustrations and emotions surrounding COVID-19. And while the process takes time, administrators said it can also deliver peace of mind.

“Our number one goal is to keep kids safe at school so kids can learn,” said Moss.

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