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Southwestern Central School Announces First COVID Case

Southwestern Central School District announced that an on-site teacher at its elementary school tested positive for COVID-19 last Thursday during Tuesday night’s meeting of the board of education.

Superintendent Maureen Donahue told board members that the district acted swiftly in beginning the contact tracing process. The case was reported on New York state’s COVID-19 Report Card on Friday, she said.

“It was our first experience. It’s not going to be our last,” Donahue said. “I hope it will be our last, but I don’t believe so.”

Donahue credited the Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services for their assistance in the process.

“I just want to say this was a test of the work of our health department,” she said. “They were phenomenal. They stepped in immediately. We have a nurse assigned to us that’s the same nurse. We have epidemiologists that worked with us.”

Donahue said that the district began the contact tracing process at 1 p.m. on Thursday.

“We started this process at 1 p.m. on Thursday and had people out of the building that we needed to contact tracing,” she said. “We chose to make the contact ourselves initially because I wanted our families to hear from us. The health department then contacts every person that is quarantined because of a contact.”

Any exposure occurred “externally,” Donahue said. As a result, there are approximately 24 people that are in quarantine that may have come into contact with the individual who tested positive. That number could continue to change, she noted.

“Every day we have people that are quarantined by the health department that may be in our buildings,” she explained. “We then get an immediate email from the department of health that lists everybody. I get updates from the department of health that this person is quarantined. I send it on confidentially and share it so it goes to the nurse of that particular building and I notify the principal so we just know who is now quarantined.”

Rapid testing was made available to the district, she said.

“As soon as the test came back, you have to start contact tracing,” said. “From the point when we knew that this was a possibility, we gathered as much as possible. Our principal and nurse were phenomenal too and had everything together for our contact tracer team and then a team comes in and it’s all done electronically and works with us.”

The district, in its reopening plan, put procedures in place that ensure systematic contact tracing, Donahue said.

“That’s why the kids have an assigned desk in lunch,” she said. “It’s all about contact tracing to move and mitigate it quickly. If that happened on a Saturday, we would be here on a Saturday getting whatever we need for contact tracing.”

No decision was made to move to total remote learning for two weeks, Donahue said.

“There was no reason to send anyone and go to full remote, but that is a possibility in the future if we have to,” she said. “We listened to everything that the department of health directed us and we’re continuing to monitor it.”

James Butler, board president, asked Donahue if the district has considered any modifications to the plan in light of the reported case.

“We had a conversation today,” she responded. “We feel that actually our kids have been great about mask-wearing and our staff has. One of the things that was an eye-opener for me was how many of us could be involved as a contact.”

As a result, one area the district will adjust is having internal meetings via Zoom if possible.

“If we could meet over Zoom, even if we’re in the building together, we need to do that,” Donahue said. “I’m very conscious when I’m out in the building. I’m not out in the building as much as I was before because I don’t want to be a spreader or contact and be aware of that for our kids. When I go out, I don’t stay long. Those types of things we talked about are where we need to clean it up.”

She added, “It’s going to be a constant conversation or the next nine months. Hopefully, we’re out of it by then. … We’re opening up that circle and every time we open up that circle a little more we have to be very conscious. If we open it too far, we have to shut it back down.”

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