During COVID-19 pandemic, contact tracing is a precise science in Martin County schools

Process involves pulling schedules, seating charts, attendance records, then notifying affected students
Contact tracing has evolved in the Martin County School District during the COVID-19 pandemic.jpg
Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 07:32:57-05

STUART, Fla. — School leaders have to continue learning new lessons of their own this year when it comes to contact tracing and isolating students and staff members if someone tests positive for COVID-19.

For Martin County High School teacher Jamie Herd-Tesson, this school year is anything but ordinary.

"It's been different this year, but it's not something that we can't accomplish together," Herd-Tesson said.

She has students in-person and online.

"I enjoy the processing. I like the challenge. I enjoy that opportunity to learn and grow," Herd-Tesson said.

For the 1,400 students and teachers on campus at Martin County High School, there's been a learning curve, one that might have them in the classroom one day and online the next.

"At the beginning of the year, we were looking at the board so much more so," said Principal Al Fabrizio.

Fabrizio is also faced with a new type of lesson plan: how to do contact tracing.

A giant board outside Fabrizio's office outlines some of the major steps in the process when someone tests positive for COVID-19.

"It's a little bit like teaching. The goal is to get a little bit better every day," Fabrizio said.

In the beginning of the school year, the Martin County School District would quarantine an entire classroom if one student tested positive for the coronavirus. But now, with permanent seating charts, the district is able to see exactly which students had close contact with an infected individual, so they don't have to unnecessarily send students home.

"Everybody just jumps in and just gets going in the process," Fabrizio said.

That process usually takes a team of up to 10 staff members about two hours from start to finish.

It involves pulling a student's schedule, checking seating charts and attendance records, and mapping out close contacts -- keeping in mind lunch seating and transportation -- then notifying and removing the impacted students.

"We do this during the school day, but this also could be at 7 o'clock on a Tuesday night, or this could be at 2 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon," Fabrizio said.

According to the latest numbers from the Martin County School District, there have been 33 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 591 quarantines at Martin County High School this year.

"Even with my immune compromised system, I feel safe here," said Herd-Tesson, whose husband built her a Plexiglas barrier for her desk.

She's just grateful to be inside the classroom where she knows she makes a difference.

"We don't need a lot of extra things. We just need students to come in and use what they have, and we can make anything work," Herd-Tesson said.

And that's why Martin County school leaders said this semester its going from surviving to thriving.

The Martin County School District's website has a dashboard that includes not only COVID-19 cases, but also quarantine numbers.

As of Friday, Feb. 12, the district has reported 265 COVID-19 cases and 3,622 students and staff members quarantined this school year.

To see the Martin County School District's COVID-19 dashboard, click here.