Northwestern Arkansas school officials say ending contact tracing and required quarantine eases burden

Officials from the four largest school districts in the northwest Arkansas region — Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville — said they are no longer tracing contacts or requiring students and staff to self-quarantine.

Ending contact tracing and quarantine requirements will ease the burden on school staff and give them more time to focus on their other duties, they said.

Governor Asa Hutchinson announced that school districts on February 1 will no longer be required to conduct contact tracing and quarantine probable close contacts of positive cases. The state’s contact tracing and quarantine guidelines remain “best practices,” but it’s up to each district to decide whether or not to take those steps, he said.

Likely close contacts are identified as people who were within one meter of a covid-positive person for more than 15 minutes. They had been required to quarantine at home for five days and wear a mask at school for another five days.

Students and staff who were fully vaccinated or wore masks were already exempt from self-quarantine if they came into contact with a covid-19 positive person.

The end of contact tracing in Fayetteville schools allows nurses to resume normal activities focusing on the health needs of students, said Alan Wilbourn, public information officer.

The district’s mask policy has significantly reduced the number of school-related quarantines, Wilbourn said. It is the only district of the four that has required students to wear masks for the majority of this school year.

Although the district does not have an overall total of students who have been quarantined this year, on the highest day — Jan. 19 — 373 students and 47 staff were quarantined, it said. he declares. The district has 10,400 students and 1,500 staff, he said.

The omicron push in January and February strained the Springdale School District’s contact tracing system, district general counsel Kendra Clay said at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Over the past month, 589 staff and 2,338 students have tested positive for the virus, she said.

Nurses, managers and social workers have been tracing contacts and calling families, Clay said. Sometime during the omicron surge, the district stopped tracking which of the likely close contacts tested positive because the variant was so contagious that everyone was exposed, she said.

Springdale has identified 1,761 probable close contacts among students and staff since the start of the school year, including 913 this semester, according to the district’s website. The district has about 21,800 students and about 3,000 employees.

Under the new guidelines, students and staff are encouraged to stay home if they’re sick and come to school if they’re not, Clay said. The new guidelines were pushed back on Feb. 1, but schools closed due to winter weather from Feb. 2-4, so Monday was the first day the guidelines were in effect, she said.

“I’ve received a lot of very happy and grateful emails from managers and nursing staff,” Clay said. “Really, the contact tracing process was taking up their time. We’re very grateful to be heading in the direction these guidelines are taking us.”

Ending contact tracing will ease a significant burden on nurses and teachers in the Bentonville School District, said Leslee Wright, district communications director.

A total of 5,426 students have been quarantined this year, including 2,597 since the start of the spring semester on Jan. 5, she said. The district has about 18,000 students, according to its website.

While schools in Rogers will no longer do contact tracing, parents will have the option of self-quarantining if a student comes into close contact with a positive case, said Charles Lee, assistant superintendent and point of contact. district with the Arkansas Department of Health. .

Each of the 25 schools in the district has established its own contact tracing procedure, Lee said. At a minimum, the school nurse and building administrators were responsible for identifying and contacting families identified as likely close contacts.

A total of 7,391 students have been quarantined this academic year, including 4,195 this semester, Lee said. Rogers has approximately 15,600 students. During the push for the omicron variant, the district stopped tracking the number of quarantined students who tested positive, he said.

“The key change is that students will no longer be sent home for being in close contact with a positive person,” he said.