After NYC student’s COVID-19 case went undisclosed, contact tracers will work more closely with education department

The change will fill an apparent hole in the tracing process.

A stack of homemade fabric face masks
Contact tracers can now ask the education department for more details about school-age children who test positive for the coronavirus. (Photo by Vera Davidova on Unsplash)

The city’s contact tracers can now ask the education department for the school information of a child who tests positive for the coronavirus.

The change follows a Chalkbeat story about P.S. 7, in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, where school officials discovered that one of their in-person students had tested positive for the coronavirus 10 days earlier at Elmhurst Hospital, a Queens public hospital.

A department official said parents are generally reporting cases to principals and providing school information to contact tracers, but this change will allow the city to catch cases that a family does not report.

Eight other students and three teachers were exposed to the child, according to two of the teachers who were asked to quarantine and wished to remain anonymous to avoid reprisal. The school learned of the positive test only after other staffers checked in with the student’s family because the child had been absent for multiple days, the two teachers explained. Although the teachers who spoke to Chalkbeat have so far tested negative for COVID-19, quick and clear communication about potential exposure is “absolutely critical” to preventing virus transmission, one public health expert previously told Chalkbeat. 

When a positive result is reported in New York City, employees with NYC Test + Trace, the city’s contact-tracing program, reach out to the infected person to find out about their close contacts and to share information about what they should do next. In this case, the parent did not reveal “close school contacts” to a tracer, according to education department officials.

City officials have declined to say whether the contact tracer asked where the child attended school, or if the parent was asked but declined to answer. 

On Monday, education department spokesperson Miranda Barbot tweeted that the situation at P.S. 7 “should have never happened,” and tracers will now be able to cross-check a child’s school information with the education department.

“This is an [additional] layer, and as a reminder: call your school if your child tests positive, and always answer when Test+Trace calls!” Barbot tweeted. 

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