Quick action and use of contact tracing teams may be the key to reducing the spread of COVID-19.
As schools re-open after extended closures due to COVID-19, the implementation of contact tracing may be a reality for epidemic response in public schools. While contact tracing is most prevalent within local communities, public schools may be the next entity to implement this important process to ensure the safety and wellness of all stakeholders in the learning community.
As students and employees return to school, an important action in the epidemic response plan of school entities may be contact tracing. When a student or employee tests positive for COVID-19, school entities will need to act quickly. Contact tracing teams allow entities to activate the process by communicating information about the outbreak of the virus and informing those individuals potentially exposed to the virus in a systematic and objective way.
By implementing the use of contact tracing teams, HR departments can delegate some of the necessary work when a coronavirus case is reported, as well as streamline the process of communication by using a small group of well-trained individuals. Members of these teams can effectively bridge the gap between communicating with individuals who have contracted or been exposed to the coronavirus and implementing the district plan of action for epidemic response.
NPR recently published an article highlighting the use of librarians to engage in the work of contact tracing in the community. The article discusses why librarians are excellent candidates for contact tracing, and it also expands on the training necessary to be an effective contact tracer. The article expounds on possible ideas of thinking creatively to develop and implement contact tracing teams.
Considerations for contact tracing in school entities
If school entities determine contact tracing is a desired component for their epidemic response plan, they will need to determine how they want to proceed. Choosing the correct individuals to work as contact tracers will be imperative to creating successful teams. Employees such as nurses, clinic assistants, and librarians are possible choices, but school entities may also want to employ HR professionals or communication professionals within the organization because they have strong communication skills and the ability to connect positively with the community.
School entities will also need to balance the already challenging workload of identified employees to ensure they can successfully complete the additional requirements of contact tracing when necessary. It will be important for school entities to assess current duties, responsibilities, and schedules of these employees to determine how best to accommodate their workload and prevent burnout and stress as they manage contact tracing cases throughout the year.
Training, compensation, and other considerations
Once school entities decide to use contact tracing teams, a timeline and plan need to be developed. School entities should consider creating a plan of action that includes specific goals, timelines, and individuals responsible for tasks, and communicate the plan to employees. Entities should also evaluate what type of compensation will be provided for members of contact tracing teams, as well as determine how to adapt current work schedules to accommodate the process and development of teams.
Contact tracer training for individuals in organizations in Texas can be completed through the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASHTO) at the Texas Department of Health website. Anyone seeking certification as a contact tracer will need to complete a comprehensive training program and obtain certification. In addition to certification, school entities may consider offering individuals on contact tracing teams HIPPA training, cybersecurity training, and ongoing professional development to ensure they have the best knowledge and guidance available to support contact tracing efforts within the organization.
School entities may also want to consider the following questions when discussing the option of adding contact tracing teams:
- Which staff members should be part of a contact tracing team? Who will supervise and manage the team?
- What is the process of deploying the contact tracing team when an employee or student reports a confirmed diagnosis of coronavirus? How is information communicated in a timely and confidential manner?
- What program will the district use to train employees as contact tracers, and how will the district ensure contact tracers have the tools necessary to complete the role successfully? What support mechanisms are in place to ensure thei safety and wellness of contact tracers as they fulfill their duties?
- What resources and funding are available to create and implement contact tracing teams in the organization? Will additional staff be needed? Will funds be allocated for additional compensation for employees on contact tracing teams?
Careful decision-making and thoughtful planning will help school entities determine their best plan for epidemic response. Although the future is uncertain, we know that schools will eventually re-open and school entities must be prepared to respond to cases of coronavirus in their learning communities. Establishing a solid epidemic response plan with the option of enlisting contact tracing teams will keep the district moving forward and ensure the safety and wellness of all individuals in the learning community.
Jennifer Barton is an HR and compensation consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Jennifer an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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