The arrival of the new year has unfortunately brought no relief from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly two years after the first confirmed case in the U.S., the virus continues to raise havoc across the country and the world, and schools at all levels are still struggling to keep COVID off campus and out of the classroom. One of the most glaring recent examples occurred in early December, when Cornell University was forced to shut down its campus and move finals online after nearly 900 students tested positive in a single week, underscoring COVID’s continuous impact. Other schools have taken similar measures.
A majority of the recent cases have involved the omicron variant, which according to early evidence causes less severe symptoms but is far more transmissible than previous strains. But much more needs to be learned about the variant.
The Associated Press reported in early December that the emergence of omicron had prompted health officials in multiple states to revive contact tracing programs. Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, predicted a rise in contact tracing programs around the country.
At PubSEG, we’ve never stopped contact tracing. We understand its importance in slowing the spread of the virus and plan to continue to work with schools, colleges, and universities throughout 2022, either by taking over or supplementing their existing contact tracing programs or building our own.
Schools that were hoping to no longer need PubSEG’s services in 2022 have instead continued to partner with us, because they realize that stopping contact tracing programs now could lead to rampant spread of the virus and possible extended shutdowns.
Here are three reasons contact tracing in schools is as important as ever at the start of 2022:
1. The omicron variant surge
As of mid-December, delta was still the dominant strain of the COVID-19 virus in the U.S., accounting for 96.7% of circulating variants, according to the CDC.
Just one week later, omicron accounted for 73 percent of new cases in the U.S., including an estimated 92 percent of cases in New York and New Jersey.
“Amazing how fast it spreads,” Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told NBC News.
With the rapid surge of omicron, it doesn’t appear case numbers in schools will be dropping anytime soon, especially with students returning from holiday gatherings and vacations over winter break. PubSEG can help you quickly react to these situations, by identifying positive cases and exposures, providing quarantine instructions, and following up to determine when students and staff are cleared to return to school safely.
2. Keeping pace with changing department of health recommendations
In recent weeks, departments of health throughout the country—from the CDC through state and local governments—have revised their recommendations on ways to keep school communities safe. Partnering with PubSEG can help schools keep pace with these changing precautions without putting a strain on their administrative and nursing staffs.
The latest change in guidance occurred on December 27, when the CDC shortened the recommended times that people should isolate after they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 from 10 days to five days, as long as they are asymptomatic and wear a mask around others for at least five more days. The CDC also shortened the recommended quarantine time to five days for vaccinated individuals exposed to the virus.
Adjusting to updated recommendations is nothing new for PubSEG. In mid-December, the New Jersey Department of Health (PubSEG’s home state) updated its COVID-19 recommendations for schools and quarantine timeframes for the public. Across the country in Los Angeles County, where PubSEG has multiple clients, COVID guidelines have changed several times.
“Departments of health are not slowing down in their requirements, advice, and recommendations to schools and universities,” said Kerry Dougherty, PubSEG’s Head of Sales. “As long as departments of health are asking schools to keep people safe, they’re going to need us to help.”
3. Vaccine and test monitoring
PubSEG’s services go beyond contact tracing. Our team is trained to review vaccination information submitted by students and raise red flags if we notice any fraudulent activity. We can keep track of students’ immunization statuses and create databases indicating who has been vaccinated.
An increasing number of colleges and K-12 school districts have implemented vaccine mandates; we can help make sure they’re enforced. PubSEG can also help schools determine which religious exemptions to the vaccine are legally acceptable.
We can also monitor and support any testing requirements schools might have. Testing has become more important than ever as a means to keep students in school, thanks to the CDC’s recently instituted “test to stay” guideline that allows unvaccinated children to remain in school after exposure under certain circumstances, including undergoing multiple tests. For children to remain in school, two negative tests within a week after exposure are required. PubSEG can help make sure parents are aware of these guidelines, encourage them to get their children tested, and monitor the results.
Schools no doubt wish they could put COVID-19 behind them in 2022. We all do.
But the fact is, the virus isn’t going away—and by all indications will be here for a long time to come. Outbreaks on campus and in school buildings will continue to cause major disruptions and put an undue burden on principals, nurses, HR departments, and other administrators.
Having a dedicated contact tracing partner can significantly lessen those disruptions and ease that burden.
If you’re looking for help in your efforts to slow the spread of COVID, give us a call. We promise to do everything we can to keep your school as safe as possible in 2022 … and beyond.