What Exactly is Contact Tracing?

The Monday following Thanksgiving break, November 30, teachers, students, and parents received emails in the middle of the school day notifying them of an immediate early dismissal. The reason? Someone in our school tested positive for COVID-19 and the school needed to perform “contact tracing.” The next day, another person was found with the virus in our school and the school shut down early again, this time for two days, for the same process. The phrase is often thrown around, but what does contact tracing constitute exactly? And is it enough to allow us to be back in school after a case has been found?

I reached out to Ms. Pace, Wheatley’s Director of High School Life and District Science, to learn more about what our school is doing to handle the virus. Her role involves working with Dr. Feeney, Dr. Klapper, and the school nurse, Ms. Gross, “to contact trace when we have a positive case” and “to ensure that students who are exhibiting COVID-like symptoms remain at home until they are tested for COVID using a PCR test.”

Ms. Pace, Wheatley’s Director of High School Life and District Science

When asked about what contact tracing is exactly, she describes it as “a way to keep track of people who may have come in contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID. Siblings of sick students also stay home to further reduce the chance of infectious students being in our schools.” It’s important for keeping “the virus under control by notifying potential direct contacts to quarantine during the 14-day incubation period.”

To find out if people need to quarantine, the school questions those who have gotten COVID about who they “have been around during the infectious period.” Ms. Pace shared that, “If the student has been in school, we find out where they had been and who they were with during that time.  We also want to know if they had been with any East Williston students outside of the school day. Our main goal is to protect the students and staff from any potential contacts.” 

Once this information is obtained, individuals who have been in contact with the infected student are also questioned. Ms. Pace stresses that “it is important to get as much information as we can so we can safely monitor anyone who could potentially test positive. This allows us to see if they had been in contact with anyone during the infectious period.”

All information is kept as confidential as possible, according to Ms. Pace, “unless we learn about potential direct contacts, then those people must be informed.  For instance, when we learn of a positive case, the teachers of the student are questioned to make sure that that student is complying with our mask and social distancing policies.”  

When asked about contact tracing’s ability to allow us back in school, she shares that there’s nothing to fear. “What we have learned thus far is that people are not contracting the virus in schools. Health officials such as Nassau County Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein have even gone on record stating that schools are the safest place for students right now. To continue keeping our schools safe, we encourage safe behavior even when students are not in our buildings.” Additionally, “these guidelines have been set by the CDC and New York State” so they are being mandated by reliable authorities.

Luckily, school will be able to remain in person unless “any government official decides we need to close buildings. For instance, last spring Nassau County Executive Laura Curran made the initial call and then our Governor extended the building closures. 

Ms. Pace assures that “East Williston buildings will remain open as long as we can ensure that the virus is not being contracted through school activities.” 

If any questions do remain, Ms. Pace guarantees that she, Dr. Feeney, or Dr. Klapper would be happy to help.

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