Augusta school officials say new rule making COVID-19 contact tracing optional will help reduce staff workload

AUGUSTA — City school officials say revisions this week to COVID-19 education standards that allow schools with universal masking to make contact tracing optional will reduce the workload for nurses and administrators.

The new guidelines mean that individual families will no longer be notified if their child was a close contact, according to the district’s website.

James Anastasio, superintendent of Augusta Public Schools, spoke with the Board of Education on Wednesday evening about the conversations the superintendent area chairs had with Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

Anastasio said during the meeting with the superintendents that they had started discussing how to develop measures for schools if they wanted to get rid of the burden of contact tracing and had tried to find a basis from the number number of students and staff vaccinated against COVID-19 and the number of school members involved in pool testing.

“Dr. Shah was listening and hearing things he had never heard before and talking about the change in the medical community and how it (COVID-19) has spread so quickly and is not affecting not people that long (like in the past),” Anastasio said.

Augusta Public Schools plans to tell parents to watch their children for symptoms if they are a close contact outside the community and not send them to school if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or fever.

School officials are still asking parents to let them know if their child has COVID-19, as the school district will still be tracking positive cases within school walls. Anastasio reminded the board that the new contact tracing directive could change in the near future depending on COVID-19 rates.

The Ministry of Education said on Wednesday that the new guidelines are needed because the omicron variant of COVID-19 “is much more contagious than other variants, has a shorter incubation period and tends to spread in early infection, making community exposures more frequent and therefore reducing the effectiveness of contact tracing in schools.

The statement goes on to say that timely contact tracing has become “increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for school personnel given the rapid spread”.

Last week, state officials also changed the quarantine time in school guidelines from 10 to five days, causing confusion among some local school boards.

Deputy Superintendent Katy Grondin said the change in guidelines might worry staff members, but reminded the community of pool testing and encouraged families to enroll their students because pool testing is optional.

Students and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 90 days are excluded from swimming pools.

The new change will allow many administrators, nurses and teachers to ease the enormous workload of contact tracing. Augusta Public Schools officials have met with school nurses to make sure this is something the nurses are willing to do. On Thursday, district officials are talking to teachers to get their feedback on the new measure.

“The nurses felt comfortable and felt like it gave them the opportunity to really monitor the students, and it freed up the principals to do the work they needed to do,” Grondin said. “When there are seven pools (tests) coming in, it is the nurses and the directors who try to do it. Everyone is working and mobilizing. »

The vaccination rate for Augusta public school teachers is lowest at Lincoln Elementary School, at 78%, and highest at Cony Middle School at 95%. Students have a vaccination rate at Augusta between 85 and 90 percent, according to the CDC.

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