Sullivan County Schools working on how to report COVID-19 cases

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – With some student-athletes already testing positive for COVID-19, the director of Sullivan County Schools says officials are working to refine how they report cases to the public.

On Saturday, the school district reported a member of the Sullivan South football community tested positive, resulting in the entire team and coaching staff having to quarantine. On Tuesday night, it was reported a member of the Sullivan South volleyball community tested positive, also requiring team members and coaches to quarantine.

When someone in the school community tests positive for COVID-19, Sullivan County Schools Director Dr. David Cox says the first priority is notifying close contacts and those directly impacted before the public is notified. But he said it’s not always easy.

“It’s trying to achieve that balance of getting correct information out. But also making sure we notify those impacted. And it’s really challenging,” said Dr. Cox.

When the school system announced a student on a volleyball team tested positive on Tuesday, the initial announcement identified the wrong high school first. A correction was quickly issued – saying the player actually went to Sullivan South.

“Someone let me know that was not the right school, so we corrected that,” said Dr. Cox.

Dr. Cox said they’re determining the best way to report cases while trying to respect the privacy of those who test positive. He said the school system is still examining options – including possibly reporting cases on school web pages.

“There’s so many aspects to manage that simply have not been an issue before,” said Dr. Cox. “We ask for everyone’s continued patience. We want to do the right thing, for the right reasons, for our people, and we will keep working on that. We won’t be perfect though.”

Meanwhile, the positive cases come as students are attending sports practices, but are still learning virtually. The situation is not exclusive to Sullivan County Schools. On Tuesday, Kingsport City Schools announced a two-week cancellation of basketball-related activities following its second team member testing positive.

These cases are a point of concern for Dr. Stephen May of the Sullivan County Health Department.

“It is concerning that we’ve had a number of clusters and outbreaks with a number of teams already, and we still haven’t got the children back in school,” said Dr. May.

Dr. May says the Sullivan County Health Department has put together a ‘school outbreak response team’ that’s assisting every system in the county. He confirmed just because a student-athlete tests positive, it doesn’t mean the whole team automatically quarantines. Contacts are identified as those within six feet of a person who tests positive for 10 minutes.

“Then, if we can’t really make a good, distinctive delineation of who may be a contact, then we have to quarantine the team, or the class, or the teachers, or whoever is involved,” said Dr. May.

Dr. Cox said the plan is to still reopen schools August 24th on the hybrid learning model. A school board meeting is scheduled for Thursday to discuss further policy.

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