Delayed test results slowed COVID-19 contact tracing at Fletcher

‘Fair number of students’ developed symptoms, health department director says

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Fletcher High School is set to reopen its campus for in-person learning on Thursday after it shifted students and staff into virtual instruction due to a spike in COVID-19 infections.

“We will continue to follow all of our safety protocols we had in place prior to the closure,” Principal Dean Ledford told students and parents via email Wednesday. “Continue to stay safe at home and throughout the community. If your student still has direction to quarantine from the Department of Health, please adhere to that guidance. Otherwise, we really look forward to re-gathering as a school community on campus tomorrow."

According to Duval County Public Schools' infection dashboard, a total of 42 students and four staffers have tested positive since August. Most of those numbers have been linked to an outbreak two weeks ago that led administrators to close the campus and sideline athletes involved with several athletic teams.

Dr. Pauline Rolle, director of the Florida Department of Health in Duval County, which conducts contact tracing for the school district, said a “fair number of students” developed symptoms of the virus.

RELATED: Reported coronavirus cases continue to rise at Fletcher

“A lot of them actually had symptoms that were similar to the flu or to allergies or things of that nature,” Dr. Rolle said. “We want people to remember that COVID-19 is a great mimicker. It looks like a lot of other things — it looks like the common cold, it looks like flu, it looks like allergies, it looks like migraines. We want people to keep those things in mind as they go on with their daily lives.”

Dr. Rolle also said that her office was late to receive many test results, which slowed efforts to notify parents and students who might have been exposed to a student who tested positive for the virus.

“Often times families know way before we do, sometimes even up to a week before we do, that they have a positive case in their household. So we have gotten complaints from the community saying, ‘Oh my God. It’s taking so long for you guys to get to us,'” Rolle said. “So we have asked people to let us know if they have gotten a positive (result) and have not heard from us.”

She said the problem appears to be with clinics, urgent care and drive-up testing locations that provide rapid tests. These clinics are supposed to notify the health department when they become aware of a positive test. But Rolle said not all of them have been doing that. Why?

“The only explanations given have been a lack of staffing or they didn’t know that they had to report results to the department of health,” she said.

Rolle also wants parents and students to know if someone tests positive, the health department does not reveal that person’s identity. She said some students have told her office they feel like a “snitch” by naming someone they might have come into contact with or exposed and are worried that person will be mad at him or her.

“Please know that when we reach out to your close contacts, they don’t know who told us about the contact. We keep that confidential, so there is no need for anyone to be afraid to share that information with us. It helps us to be able to let folks know, ‘Hey you have been in contact. You have been exposed to COVID-19.’ And they can take the necessary precautions in the event that they become positive to prevent the spread of the disease."

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