During the Haddonfield School District’s last virtual public meeting on Sept. 24, Superintendent Chuck Klaus confirmed the first positive case of COVID-19 among the student body and told members of the public it has to “strike a balance” between disclosing reported cases and protecting the identity of whomever tests positive.
In making the announcement, Klaus provided an extensive description of the process to determine positive cases of coronavirus and how those who may be affected are notified.
“The testing center will get a positive COVID result,” he explained. “They will inform the doctor, and the Camden County Department of Health. They do both of those, because the doctor’s got to tell the family before the county calls in, because the county’s going to call almost immediately once they have the results.”
The county health department will then notify the family of the person presumed positive, and will ask questions to initiate contact tracing that can take up to 24 hours. The department, in turn, will contact the district, and ask for information, such as the name of anyone who may have been in close contact with a person presumed positive, along with addresses and telephone numbers. Klaus said the district would provide all pertinent information.
The superintendent also said the county health department will engage in extensive inquiries regarding the nature of classroom set-ups, interactions between students and among students and teachers, and virtually anything one could imagine.
“When we got our first contact on Tuesday, I was probably an hour and a half on the phone with a contact tracer, just finding out what information they wanted, how they wanted it, and then to gather and get it over to them,” Klaus said.
At that time, the school involved and the health department will discuss contact tracing and will advise the district if individuals need to be quarantined or any actions need to be taken at that school.
If a parent or a family has a positive case and they notify the school district, administrators can obtain a variety of information about a student or teacher fairly quickly, pass it on to the county as they get test confirmation, and reduce the 24-hour window for tracing, according to Klaus.
In acknowledging the number of false positive tests that have occurred, the superintendent put some community rumors to rest by revealing that a phone call from a parent does not initiate any district protocol until the county confirms it has a positive test.
When a positive case is confirmed within a school building, those in immediate close contact with the student or teacher will receive a notification letter from the district. Klaus outlined what made the confirmed positive different than protocol would suggest.
“When we met with the county and talked with them, because the child was asymptomatic, when we looked back, (we discovered) the child had not been to school,” he noted. “So there was no notification from the district, because there was no contract tracing happening within the school.
“There’s going to be a time where we get three or four cases at once. We have been very lucky that we only had one.”
The district is also paying close attention to the behaviors of its student athletes. Finally given the go-ahead for competition to begin, the Haddons were scheduled to begin a truncated 2020 varsity football schedule on Oct. 2 against West Deptford, while all other boys’ and girls’ fall athletics were to begin between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5.
“Mr. Banos (athletic director Lefty) goes from practice to practice to make sure protocols are being followed,” Klaus added. “This is a disease of the head as much as anything else; if we do what’s right, we’re pretty safe. In football, they’ve been sharing water bottles their whole lives and that tendency has to stop.”
In response to a resident who asked what it would take for the district to return to in-class instruction five days a week, Klaus said that was the ultimate goal, as well as a plan he had to be talked out of implementing during extensive summer discussions about how to best proceed in the new school year.
“We’re in Phase 1 right now,” he said. “We’d have to first go to Phase 2, which is to go through full days four days a week instead of two half days. A lot of the (positive case) numbers are based not just on county and local but regional numbers.”
With the district in a state of constant evaluation, Klaus floated an intermediate option of ‘three and two,’ so one cohort of students would have three days in person one week and two the next week, rotating with the other cohort.
“I believe with every fiber of my being that our schools might be the safest places in the community right now. It’s safer than walking down Kings Highway: You see some people don’t have masks on,” Klaus stated.
“We need to be diligent. We need to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves and taking care of others. We can’t come to school when we’re sick. We have to wear our masks.”