We’re counting on you to help minimize the impact of COVID in our schools
Dear GISD Family and Community Members,
We’ve said from the very beginning of this pandemic that we’re in this together.
What does that mean? Today, almost two months after school started, we’ve seen COVID-19 cases on every campus, calling for campus and district closures, event cancellations, and the quarantine of hundreds of people. The ripple effect has touched the lives of every member of our GISD family.
I want to acknowledge that it has been a trying time for all of us. The reality is that COVID-19 has brought chaos into to our lives. So, what can we do about it?
I’ve visited at length with educators and health officials across the state, and one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve worked with is our own GISD Health Services Director Noel Bares. She is committed to incorporating consistent guidelines and common sense into her practices. Here is what she says:
• It begins with communication. The process of quickly identifying positive cases and conducting contract tracing is essential in minimizing the impact on others in our schools and across our community. Every one of us has a responsibility to uphold, and that is to protect others by reporting cases to the school nurse so that we can minimize the spread. Don’t hesitate to ask others, whether you are at a school event or another public gathering, to wear their masks and keep their distance.
• Another thing we can all do is to get a flu shot. Getting the vaccine every year is the best way to prevent becoming infected with influenza. Since the symptoms for the flu and COVID-19 are so similar, it makes even more sense right now. GISD has held flu vaccine clinics on all campuses and encouraged employees to participate. Families and students can get flu shots at numerous locations, including doctor’s offices.
• How contact-tracing really works: Effective contact tracing is one of the most important things we can do to fight the spread of COVID-19. And, since we started school last month, we’ve all seen that the virus is present in our community and in our schools. In GISD we use the CDC guidelines for contact tracing. Specifically, any individual within 6 feet of a COVID-19 infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more, is considered exposed and will be asked to quarantine. This is whether or not the close contact wears or mask or not.
• What is quarantine and why is it important? As many of us have discovered, It’s no fun being under quarantine. Ideally, a quarantined person will remain in their home and limit contact with other individuals. It’s a major hassle that restricts and complicates our lives and often cuts us off from activities we enjoy. However, it is very important to take quarantine orders seriously because it minimizes the spread of the virus.
• COVID-19 safety response levels revised: At last week’s school board meeting, trustees approved revised COVID-19 safety response levels to allow for a measured approach to closures. You can find the safety levels on the GISD website.
• How decisions are made: As you can imagine, we have been researching, analyzing and planning since the pandemic hit in March to reopen school safely. We have developed communication trees, charts, videos, signs, decals and key messages to provide a consistent framework when urgent communication is needed. This safety response decision tree summarizes what happens when cases are reported. Each and every decision that is made takes into account both student learning and health protocols.
• When should I stay home? Even if you don’t have a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, if someone in your household is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 (cough, sore throat, headache, fever, body aches, chills, vomiting and diarrhea, loss of taste and smell, all household members should stay home until COVID test results are known or an alternative diagnosis has been determined by a physician. This will help protect others in school and the community.
• When should I get tested? If you develop any of the symptoms listed above, you can be tested for COVID-19 at your doctor’s office, a local clinic or by scheduling a free test at gogettested.com.
• What tests are the most accurate? The most reliable test for COVID-19 is a diagnostic PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test that detects the presence of the virus. The rapid test is an antigen test that can be analyzed at the doctor’s office or clinic, and results are usually available in one hour or less. A third test is an antibody test that analyzes the blood to see if you have developed antibodies to the virus, which indicates that you’ve been infected by COVID-19 in the past.
Accurate, timely information is one of the most powerful tools we can use in this fight. That’s why we need to be on our guard, and, if we do develop COVID-19 or come in direct contact with someone who has a lab-confirmed positive case, we need to share that information. So, if you receive a contact-tracing phone call, please take a minute to carefully think through your answers so that we can have the accurate information we need to keep our students, families, employees and community members safe.
You can count on us to continue to communicate about COVID-19 in our schools, even when it’s not good news. And we appreciate being able to count on you.
Dr. Demetrus Liggins is superintendent of Greenville ISD schools.