Superintendent Nancy Santilli said that Kenston Local School District is following its established protocols for a confirmed case of COVID-19. She informed parents and staff on Sept. 1 that an individual at Kenston High School has the virus. On Sept. 2, Mrs. Santilli told the Times that a parent of the student informed the district of the positive COVID-19 test result.
As of Friday, she said that there was still one case in the district and there have been no further absences of other students or staff members. Kenston officials immediately notified Geauga Public Health Commissioner Thomas Quade so the health department could begin contact tracing. Mr. Quade said that Kenston is the first school district in the county to report a case of COVID-19, but as of last Friday there was a pending test result in another Geauga County school district.
“We have very open lines of communication with the schools. I’ve been on calls every week with them for several months,” Mr. Quade said last week. “It’s refreshing because these are folks that understand the value of prevention opportunities. There really isn’t pushback. [Geauga] public health and the schools are going in the same direction.”
Gov. Mike DeWine has pushed for transparency for school districts to report COVID-19 cases. The state dashboard to display coronavirus cases per district launched on Tuesday.
“We’re going to unfortunately see this,” Mrs. Santilli said of COVID-19 cases. “It’s hard to control that. It is a pandemic that reaches out to people. We just want to keep everybody healthy and we all have to work on this together.”
Mr. Quade explained that the health department does the same contact tracing process for cases in a school district as it does for other members of the public but works with district officials every step of the way. Once the department is notified, health employees reach out to the individual with the virus to determine who else that person may have been in close contact. Mr. Quade said that the health department defines a close contact as anyone within 6 feet for a sustained period of 15 minutes or longer.
The health department works with the school district during the contact tracing process because parents often do not know the details of their child’s school day, such as who he or she sat near in various classes. Mr. Quade said that his team also needs information such as who the student sits with on the bus and how the desks are arranged and spaced out in the classrooms.
Mrs. Santilli said that the classrooms are arranged differently but all students have face masks and desk shields. During lunchtime, the high school students eat in the cafeteria, but they are spaced out and their shields are up.
“Our food service has been excellent,” she added. “They have modified their menu so they’re more like grab and go.”
Mr. Quade said that prior to the start of the school year, Kenston and other Geauga school districts wrote a protocol to follow if someone tests positive for COVID-19. Mrs. Santilli said that Mr. Quade also approved Kenston’s plan, which includes isolating the person at home and contact tracing. Each school building has a separate isolation clinic for students and staff who display COVID-19 symptoms while at school.
Individuals who should quarantine will receive a letter from the Geauga health department, Mr. Quade said. He noted that the quarantine is mandatory and there is a legal penalty if violated.
“When each school has their first case, we’re here,” Mr. Quade said. “They take all the cases very seriously. We walk them through it – it’s frightening. They take the health of their students to heart.”