The state is still developing its plan for how to handle COVID-19 cases on campuses

Plan for how to handle COVID-19 cases at public schools still being developed

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some public schools are planning to start reopening in less than two weeks, but it’s still unclear what will happen if there is a positive coronavirus case on campus.

The state Department of Health tells Hawaii News Now that a team of 15-18 contact tracers will be assigned to public schools, but no plan has been released yet.

“We had heard about it but we have not met anyone," said Education Department deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami. "We don’t have a definitive ‘this is what’s going to happen.’”

[Read more: BOE chair raises doubts about plan for in-person learning at public schools]

At a Board of Education meeting Thursday, board member Dwight Takeno also brought up the lack of a plan to handle cases. “I really thought that was a key component necessary to have structured and in place before we re-open schools or now that we’re considering re-opening schools," he said.

The Health Department expects staff to do the work of initial contact tracing.

In a statement, a spokesperson said:

“Schools should anticipate playing an active role in reporting cases and notifying contacts of exposure. Not all cases can be reached by DOH within 24 hours and some cannot be reached at all when accurate contact information is not provided in reports from laboratories.”

The statement also said that the department developing “additional specific guidance for schools” on what to do if a case is identified on campus and how to notify those who had close contact with a case.

Takeno said concerned principals have reached out to him about that expectation, essentially asking schools to handle some or most of the initial contact tracing efforts. “It’s not part of their role and it shouldn’t be part of their responsibility because they’re not adequately trained to do that," he said.

Unebasami said that school staff can help track movements of students who were on campus if there is a positive test, but the work of contact tracing is not expected.

“We have never ever agreed to being contact tracers and will not agree to it," she said.

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