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The importance of working relationship between health units and school districts


As the number of coronavirus cases continues on an upward trend across the state, heading back to school safely has been a big topic of discussion.

Schools have been busy creating distance learning, and health and safety plans to try and keep everyone safe. We sat down with the executive officer from First District Health Unit and a principal to find out how vital this partnership is, in tonight’s top story.

“We have information that they need and they have the skills and abilities that we need,” said Lisa Clute, executive officer First District Health Unit.

First District Health Unit is one of the many public health units across the state helping school districts. Clute says a partnership with school administrations is vital in keeping schools safely open.

First District’s job is to cover a seven-county region to keep administrators aware if there is cause for concern in a specific school or school district.

Every day, Clute works with Trinity’s infectious disease doctor to break down where cases are, age ranges and areas of concern in the community.

“We could have a lot of cases that are isolated in congregate care and it will have very little impact onto the school systems. So, just looking at the number of cases in your county or community is not effective in determining the impact onto the schools,” Clute said.

For example, Ward County has a handful of school districts in its parameter.

It’s up to the health unit to keep track of positive cases in Minot and how that does or doesn’t impact neighboring districts, like Surrey and vice-versa.

And if there is a positive case in a school, contact tracing is crucial.

To make it easier, districts are coming up with seating charts for on the bus and in the classroom.

“We’re going to really do our best to know where those kids are at all times and who they’re with,” said Debbie Hansen, Surrey K-12 principal & COVID Coordinator.

“If it’s working well within the schools and they have limited that exposures or limited close contacts of those students, we should be able to mitigate that fairly quickly,” Clute said.

A close contact is someone who was within 6-feet of a positive case for more than 15 minutes. So an entire class may not have to quarantine, depending on the situation.

But, each school has different policies when it comes to positive cases.

“In our current plan, which is always subject to change like everybody else’s, we would automatically go to distance learning for two days. In that two days, it would give us time to work with First District to do contact tracing and see to what extent we would have to go distance or if we’re able to come back,” Hansen said.

Hansen says because this is all so new, school administration is going to rely on First District’s information and guidance through all of this.

Surrey heads back to school Aug. 20.

Hansen wants to remind parents not to send their kids to school if they’re sick because that can lead to possibly unnecessary distance learning.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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