As COVID-19 cases rise throughout Orange County Public Schools campuses, so have lags in the information pipeline.
Parents monitoring updates to the Orange County Public Schools' COVID-19 Dashboard also have been counting the days between receiving confirmation of positive cases at their children’s school and quarantine notices.
According to an OCPS representative, school principals are supposed to send ConnectOrange phone calls and emails to notify anyone who has been in proximity of an individual with a positive test result and explain that contact tracing by Florida Department of Health in Orange County will begin.
When contact tracing is complete, anyone identified as having been closely exposed to the individual who tested positive receives a quarantine letter from FDOH-Orange.
Complaints and concerns, vented on Parent Teacher Student Organization message groups, have been accumulating, with many voices echoing similar stories of delays between the notifications.
“I received a call from the school on Friday, Aug. 20, that my son was in a class with someone (who) had COVID-19,” said one Lakeview Middle School parent, who asked to remain anonymous. “I followed up with the school, and they told me that the health department would contact me if my son needed to be tested or quarantined. If I don’t receive a call, he is OK.
“I never received a call from the health department, and (because) my son displayed no symptoms, he went to school yesterday, Aug 23,” the parent said. “Last night at 8:42 p.m., I received a recorded call from the school and an email (with a letter) stating that my son needed to be quarantined for one day and could return back to school on Aug. 25.”
The concern is that children could be at home with their families, out in the community and going to school for several days before the need to quarantine is communicated.
“It is taking four to five business days for them to issue quarantine, then a day for them to actually contact the families and quarantine the student,” said a Horizon West Middle School parent who also asked to remain anonymous. “I believe the biggest issue for contact has been the weekend. It seems to me that they don’t notify or trace over the weekend, which is causing more exposures.”
The contact-tracing process begins with an interview between a COVID patient and a public health professional to establish a chain of contacts who are then notified of possible exposure.
The consensus between FDOH-Orange and OCPS is that staffers are simply overwhelmed by the current workload.
“The reality right now is that the number of cases is higher than our capacity to track in a four-day window as outlined in the emergency rule by DOH,” said Dr. Raul Pino, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, in an email. “We are taking the necessary steps to increase our capacity, but we are all competing for a very limited work force. Your concerns and the parents’ concerns are all valid.”
“Our operations staff is working with DOH not only to recruit some of our own staff to be extensions of DOH to help with contact tracing, but we’re also expediting the way that we notify parents (during) the contact tracing process,” Orange County School Board District 4 Pam Gould said.
Some parents also have reported confusion with the wording in the quarantine letters and point out inconsistencies in the dates when children can return to school after quarantine. Most letters seem to outline a quarantine of between four and five days while some state that children can return after one day as long as they show no symptoms.
A request for clarification from FDOH-Orange was not received before press time Tuesday, but parents are encouraged to address any concerns with their schools and FDOH-Orange.