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School district being selective about COVID case notifications

“Hard to say” whether limited exposure notifications would impact transmission, county epidemiologist says

An Aspen School District bus parked in front of Aspen Middle School on August 26, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The Aspen School District announced last week that the district would not send out COVID-19 notifications “unless there is high likelihood of direct classroom transmission.”

And though there’s no formal policy prohibiting teachers from distributing their own notifications, the district does discourage teachers from telling their classrooms about COVID-19 exposure, according to a Wednesday email from district communications specialist Kiki Lavine. All communication about COVID-19 information and procedures is supposed to come from the district office.

Whether that decision to limit exposure notifications would have an impact on the spread of COVID-19 is “hard to say,” said Josh Vance, an epidemiologist with Pitkin County Public Health.



That’s in large part because of the universal indoor mask mandate for schools and child care facilities in Pitkin County, resulting in “very little transmission” on school grounds and no on-campus outbreaks this school year.

The vast majority of transmission among school-aged kids has occurred outside of school, according to the county’s COVID-19 data dashboard for schools and child care facilities.




The district decided to limit exposure notifications because the high rate of transmission in the county would make sending out notifications for every possible exposure “not sustainable” and because exposure notifications might “raise alarm” about cases originating on school grounds when it’s not clear where those cases came from, according to the email announcing the decision last week.

Both of those points check out with Vance’s assessment of the current situation: “Exposure could occur in a lot of places,” and “it is fairly unsustainable to be able to send out those alerts,” Vance said. But the sheer volume of cases and corresponding exposure notifications of late could also possibly have an opposite effect of raising alarm, Vance said.

“I think, too, if you’re getting an alert fairly frequently, you may begin to see less value in it,” Vance said.

The county does still encourage people who test positive for COVID-19 to notify their “close contacts” of possible exposure, Vance said. But because the universal mask mandate is in place in schools, Vance said the county doesn’t consider exposure in the classroom to be part of that “close contacts” definition.

County-led contact tracing is currently limited, so public health officials are focusing on two age groups for case investigation: infants and toddlers aged 4 and younger, as well as seniors aged 70 and older, Vance said.

County public health officials continue to promote testing and isolation for people who have COVID-19 symptoms and are emailing out contact tracing forms to people who test positive.

The county has also launched a tool for people to report positive results from at-home rapid tests at bit.ly/3FOzyBp.

People who fill out that form will receive a followup email where they can indicate if they are affiliated with a school as a student or teacher for data tracking purposes so those stats can be reflected on the county’s online dashboards.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com


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