Since Jan. 21, 2020, according to the Center for Disease Control, there have been over 9 million COVID cases and over 230,000 deaths in the United States. During the first few months of the crisis, Erika Yoney worked at the Minnesota Department of Health. “I had the opportunity to learn about effective contact tracing and measures to mitigate COVID,” Yoney says.
In July, Yoney joined Moorhead Area Public Schools as Health Services Supervisor to lead COVID mitigation strategies for the District. As Yoney joined the team and connected with Spud staff, she often asked staff what they liked about their job. “Every single person’s answer was that they love students,” she says. Yoney uses this passion for working with and helping students as constant motivation to get systems in place that work for teachers and staff.
The Health Services team is on the front lines not only providing high quality care every day, but they are also contact tracing like you wouldn’t believe. As of the end of October, the team had worked with over 1,400 families and staff members regarding COVID related absences.
“I remember one weekend in particular where we learned of several positive cases that needed to be contacted immediately,” Yoney says. “It was memorable because we had probably 12 staff members contacting the positive individuals and performing contact tracing for hours on a Sunday. All because the safety of our staff and students truly is the most important thing to our entire team.”
A consistent process and clear procedures are an integral part of keeping our students and staff healthy during the pandemic. Through what she learned at MDH, Yoney created a step by step outline for handling COVID cases in the District. This process is always evolving and improving as new information is available.
Step 1: Once notified of a positive case, the Health Services team interviews the person (or their family) about when symptoms started, when they were tested and where they have been in that time. This important step helps determine who the positive individual was with and when, so the contact tracing process can begin.
Step 2: Health Services speaks with anyone identified as a close contact through the contact tracing procedure. This step helps create a picture of the possible spread.
Step 3: The Health Services team reviews each case with MDH to make a determination regarding any necessary quarantines.
Step 4: Finally, a letter is sent out to anyone in the same classroom, bus or activities to ensure they are aware of a positive case near them or their student.
Preparing a Team
There are 14 individuals on the Health Services team, but Yoney knew they would need training and support to properly mitigate COVID effects. “We have wonderful partners and cannot thank them enough,” Yoney says. Two additional support teams were developed to extend the reach of the Health Services staff: COVID Coordinators and Quarantine Care Teams. COVID Coordinators are located at each school building and bring messages, case information and training back to their respective buildings. They also help coordinate staffing and outreach in their buildings when a positive case occurs. Quarantine Care Teams work directly with students in quarantine to assist with coordinating assignments, attendance and changes in return to school at each building.
“I cannot say enough about the amazing work of the Health Services team,” Yoney says. “The health technicians are being asked to do incredibly hard work and they have risen to the challenge. Our school nurses have been nothing but champions for the students, families and staff. They continue to provide high quality health services every day for acute and chronic conditions, while instituting public health practice and providing community wide interventions that keeps us all safe. I hope people recognize all that they have done to make in person school possible and I am so grateful for what they are doing to keep our school community healthy. They amaze and impress me every day.”
If there is one lesson of the pandemic, it’s that health and education are intricately connected. Health can’t be sustained without education and education can’t happen without health learners and staff. Moving past the pandemic, Yoney hopes to expand school infrastructure that improves access for all students and to expand the reach of the health services team to more meaningfully provide services to students with chronic concerns that prevent them from being able to participate fully in school.