Lee County schools try to make up for contact tracing difficulties

Published: August 26, 2021 11:06 AM EDT

Southwest Florida schools are dealing with cases of COVID-19 every day, and once those cases come to light, school districts have to then figure out who the infected have come into contact with, and that task can prove daunting.

The main issue the School District of Lee County is running into is that the District itself is not handling the contact tracing at all—it is completely up to the Florida Department of Health. But FDOH has 35 employees working on contact tracing for Lee County schools, encompassing around 90,000 students.

During Wednesday’s Facebook Live, LCSD said that it is working to enhance three main types of tracking for the virus in schools and its ability to relay that information to parents:

  • Positive case communication, like contact tracing
  • A dashboard on the school district website, hopefully to be operational by the end of the week, detailing outbreaks and tracing
  • Physical letters mailed to families as a last resort

The bottom line: LCSD and FDOH are overwhelmed.

“The problem is bodies and ability to process all this paperwork,” said Lee County School Board member Gwyn Gittens. “We know there’s a window of being susceptible to pass it on and all of that, of being contagious. But if we don’t have people to know that and figure it out soon enough, that’s what keeps us all backed up. So somewhere or other, instead of standing in the driveway, right? Watching the building burn… we need to get with somebody or, like these other districts, put our money up and hire someone to help us get this over the finish line faster.”

Despite manpower being a big issue, the District’s distance from the contact tracing process prevents it from doing any new hiring itself. LCSD also mentioned during the Facebook Live that it is trying to train an additional 13 staff members who will be coming in after hours to assist with it COVID-19 command center.

“Everybody’s looking for somewhere to, you know, pin the tail on the donkey. That’s not the issue. The issue is, if there’s two of us involved in this equation, and one of us needs help, then why can’t we roll up our sleeves and help, not blame and say, ‘You guys were slow as molasses.’ That’s not it. We don’t have time to stand… in the driveway. Hold our hoses. ‘Well, it’s your fault. Now it’s your fault.’ We got to turn the hose on. And if it means me bringing in somebody else to hold another one, then fine, we got to get the fire out or get it managed.”

LCSD will be implementing optional COVID-19 testing in schools starting by Friday or Monday. A parent must be present for the student to get tested.