St. Johns County School District hires company to help with contact tracing

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The St. Johns County School District has hired a staffing company that will help with contact tracing needs in schools.

A district spokesperson said it hired the company in part because the Florida Department of Health was not able to keep up with demands of contact tracing in schools.

“We also need additional assistance to conduct contact tracing due to the volume we are seeing among students,” the district told News4Jax on Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, there were 424 total student COVID-19 cases reported in the district and 73 involving staff. A total of 1,075 staff and students are currently being quarantined.

Maxim Healthcare Staffing Services Inc. will start working with the district on Monday and provide three medical assistants, six licensed practical nurses and a supervising registered nurse to perform contact tracing services.

Over the first month of school, parents have been critical of the contact tracing process in the district. Some St. Johns County parents have even started Facebook groups to inform other parents about coronavirus cases in schools because they said it sometimes takes days to be notified by the Department of Health.

Irene, a St. Johns County parent of two, is part of two of those groups. She supports the district’s decision to bring in help to contact trace students.

“I think that what they’re doing is a step in the right direction. I think they have to do something. But it’s just one step. Contact tracing is sort of like, you know, getting the medication after the fact,” she said.

The Ponte Vedra Beach mom said last week her unvaccinated 10-year-old son was exposed to a positive case in class but she didn’t find out until nine days later.

“Luckily, my son is fine, had no symptoms never, you know, did not experience anything that was worrisome. But it could have been a different situation,” she said. “I’m not upset with [The Department of Health] because they’re overwhelmed because they have other jobs to do. I’m not even upset with St. Johns County School District. The reality is that this is just more of the reactive approach that we have been playing catch up.”

Irene said she wants to see more preventative steps, like social distancing in classrooms and masks for students.

The Maxim employees will work Monday through Friday and be paid between $35 and $55 an hour. Federal funding will cover the costs, the district said. The St. Johns County School Board approved the funding during a board meeting on Tuesday evening.

According to the terms of the deal with Maxim, the company will work with the district for one year, but should the needs of the district diminish over the course of the school year, the agreement allows the number of personnel to be reduced with 14 calendar days’ notice, or for the agreement to be terminated with 30 days’ notice.

During a board workshop last week, Superintendent Tim Forson noted the skyrocketing cases in the district -- and acknowledged that if the situation worsens, classrooms or schools would have to temporarily transition to virtual learning.

Ultimately, the district said it’s following the state’s decision tree on how and when to quarantine students.

Right now, the district doesn’t have plans to impose a mask mandate for students, but the district is requiring masks for employees for another 15 days.

News4Jax attempted to contact the health department in St. Johns County but it did not immediately respond to our questions.

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