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MSDH relies on recommendations, not requirements, for school districts to notify parents of COVID-19 outbreaks

Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 9:34 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While the Mississippi State Department of Health requires school districts to report positive COVID-19 cases and quarantine information to the agency every week so leaders can track outbreaks, the same agency doesn’t require school districts to tell parents when an outbreak could endanger their child through close contact.

Agency spokesperson Liz Sharlot told 3 On Your Side that MSDH recommends the schools notify parents, but “there is not a requirement from MSDH that this occur.”

Sharlot said the agency provides prevention and response recommendations under public health guidance that all schools and school districts should be following.

“We choose to do that out of a moral obligation; we feel like we have to try and keep our community up to date on how our numbers are going, especially when it directly affects their children in our schools,” said Austin Brown, who handles district reporting for Madison County Schools.

Brown said they do their best to reach out to the parent as soon as they’re made aware of a positive test, and then the ten-day quarantine process begins.

At Clinton Public Schools, vaccinated students do not have to be quarantined, but parents do need to monitor them for symptoms.

“When the big things happen, when everything is is gonna fall apart, and the sky is falling, if that’s the first time that we’re putting anything out to our parents, how do we know they’re going to listen to us?” said Clinton Public Schools spokesperson Robert Chapman. “We’re letting them know from the get go.”

Neither Brown nor Chapman would comment on other districts in the state that may not report, nor did they say whether the state needed to be more strict with its policies.

The news comes as State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers told colleagues Tuesday that more than 20,000 Mississippi students had been placed under quarantine, with a little more than half of the state’s school districts reporting that information.

Byers himself lamented that some districts weren’t completely following MSDH guidelines intended to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

“What we’re finding is that a lot of schools are picking and choosing through these recommendations in a cafeteria-style process. And the intent of this really needs to be all of these things in order to prevent transmission,” Byers said.

Brown said they are constantly monitoring cases within the district and county to make adjustments as they need to.

“Presently, we have not had to go virtual for any period of time with any large groups. And hopefully we will not have to do that moving forward. But it is a working document, because conditions on the ground, if you will, can and do change. And so we want to be ready for if and when they do,” Brown said.

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