MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WHNT) — As schools across the state prepare to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year amid a pandemic, it appears the Alabama Department of Public Health could be playing a much larger role in students’ lives.
This includes who is contacted about a student testing positive for the virus and who should be quarantined following a positive test.
Alabama State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey said state education officials will not be involved in the COVID-19 notification process.
The Alabama State Department of Education released its 2020-2021 Roadmap for reopening schools Friday, but it does not directly address what schools should do if a student tests positive for COVID-19. The 46-page document lays out guidelines, but leaves numerous questions unanswered, including how to disinfect areas where students who test positive have been, notification of parents and who should be quarantined.
Sister station WHNT News 19 asked Mackey if a student tests positive, will there be notification to families of other children who could have been exposed?
“I think that’s a question you’re going to have to ask the department of public health,” Mackey answered. “It’s my understanding that the positive test, whoever administers it has to notify public health and public health takes it from there. Our department is not involved in contact tracing.”
Mackey said individual school districts can make the decision to take part in contact tracing.
“If a local school board wants to do that then they just need to work with public health about that. There are certainly a lot of concerns, HIPAA concerns out there,” he said. “Public health is well-versed in those how to do that work. So, I can’t say that absolutely nobody in local systems would ever be involved, but that would be a decision between the health department and that local school.”
“Whoever conducts that test is required to report that to the department of public health and then public health takes it from there,” he added.
Mackey said ADPH, not the school system, decides what happens next. ADPH also conducts contact tracing. Contact tracing is designed to notify people that they could have been exposed to COVID-19 because of contact with the infected person and stop the chain of virus transmission.
“If it’s an elementary child or someone who is underage according to HIPAA, then they’re going to interview the parents. And they’re going to do contacting based on that,” he said.
He says privacy laws are something parents and education officials will have to navigate carefully.
Mackey says if a student tests positive they must quarantine. But ADPH will decide if other students will be quarantined as well.
“There definitely is the possibility that a whole class could be closed down. Again, public health will do that contact tracing, but there’s a chance in doing contact tracing, they might send home, say all the members of the volleyball team,” he said.
Sister station WHNT News 19 reached out to multiple districts in the North Alabama. At this time it appears, many are still creating their own plan to address these issues.