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Contact Tracing Update

Episode 2: Contact Tracing with Kacie Pajkos

What is contact tracing?  We have heard a lot about this new practice of mitigating COVID-19 impacts over the last year.  Hear from Kacie Pajkos, FUSD Disease investigator, on the practices our schools and facilities use to keep students, families, and team members safe.

Zachery Fountain

Hello and welcome to the Flagstaff Unified School District Update, this is Zachery Fountain, the director of communications for the Flagstaff Unified School District.  And today we are joined by Kacie Pajkos.  I hope I did that correctly this time.

Kasie serves as our disease investigator.  She has the most interesting title in the Flagstaff Unified School District. Thank you for being here today.

Kacie Pajkos:

Hey, thank you.

Zachery Fountain:

So thanks for joining us today.  And we're really excited to just talk about a job in a position that's really been created because of everything that's happened in this last year.

So I'm just curious, what is it that you do for us and what are kind of the things that you do when you come in for a regular work day?

Kacie Pajkos:

Yeah.  So I'm basically a contact tracer as well as a few other assorted responsibilities.  Contact tracing is the major part of my job where I will talk with anybody who has contracted COVID who is associated with the school district, whether that be a student or a staff member or custodial or

anybody of, like, an outside company that fast works with and kind of talk them through the next steps and how we can really mitigate that spread throughout the schools and what further steps we can take.

Zachery Fountain:

Wow.  So that's got to be really interesting position because you've got a lot of different people coming to you for information or reporting information.

Now, what would you say in terms of this whole process has been the most informative, just in terms of working with folks?

Kacie Pajkos:

Yeah.  I have learned a lot about just kind of the differences amongst everybody throughout the school district that has been really interesting from Leupp School to Mount Elden Middle School to Flagstaff High School, just how different it can all be, as well as I've learned a lot about COVID itself and how it spreads.  And it's honestly, really comforting to have all that information about COVID.

It makes you a little less scared when it's the facts in front of you.  And I hope to pass that along to anybody I talk with about it.

Zachery Fountain:

Oh, that's great.  It's good to have that resource, especially now we hear contact tracing all the time.  Somebody contacts you and says, Hey, I think I might have COVID.  What's the information that you share with them and then what are your next steps?

Kacie Pajkos:

Yeah.  So if somebody contacts me and says they think they may have COVID, I'll go through a few questions as to why they think they may have had it. And those range from are you symptomatic, what are your symptoms, when did your symptoms start?  Have you had a direct contact with somebody who is known to be positive?

And a direct contact is being within six feet of a positive individual for a cumulative 15 minutes with or without masks. So that really changes what some people think when I give them that actual definition there.  And then if they have had direct contact and they have symptoms we definitely push testing.

We really ask that everybody who can goes and receives a COVID test not only for their peace of mind, but also for our contact tracing.  And if this individual has had direct contact or is symptomatic, we asked them to stay out of school if they haven't had direct contact. We ask that they stay out of school until their symptoms have subsided if they choose not to receive a test.

However, if they've had direct contacts, there's quarantine protocols that I'll share with them, and there are a few different options that have been outlined by the CDC for quarantine guidelines. 

The first is best practice.  It's that full 14 days of quarantine, but that is really difficult for people to do at this point, especially with schools opening up.

So we have a couple of other shortening options where you could go 10 days in quarantine, but you have to attest that you've had absolutely no symptoms. And those symptoms can include a little bit of a stuffy nose or a little bit of a cough - even though that's really common there are some things that you're going to really want to look out for.

But then the shortest option that you could do would be seven days of quarantine.  You have to attest to the same no symptoms.  But you also are required to have a negative COVID test taken no later than no earlier than six days after your exposure.  And then we do ask that you email us with all that information.

Zachery Fountain:

Wow, that's a lot.  I know earlier we were all trying to break down what all those different things meant.  And I just think it's really impressive.  You've got all that down by what the dates are and everything like that.

Can you just talk a little bit about we are going to be returning to school on the 22nd of March?

Can you talk a little bit about what contact tracing is going to look like when it comes to, like, student reported cases?

Kacie Pajkos:

Yeah.  So it's going to get a little bit more complicated as students are in the buildings.  But what we're hoping everything is going to be laid out real nice for us and we're going to have seating charts within all the classrooms.

So if we get a report, say, in a high school that a student has tested positive, we'll go in and we'll look at all the seating charts.  We'll look at their class schedule and we'll be able to identify the students who are sitting around them.  And then after I identifying all which classrooms they would have been in, which students they potentially had that direct contact with.

And then we will call the student and the parents, and we'll have a discussion with them about, Hey, who do you sit next to?  Like, just making sure all that information is accurate.  Who did you spend lunch with?  Where did you spend your lunch?  Are you on any sports teams?  Just kind of gathering as much information as possible, including, hey, do you have any symptoms? What kind of symptoms are you having?  When did those start?

Because something that a lot of people don't think about is that Covid is very contagious two days before symptom onset.  So that's a rather unfortunate part of contact tracing is trying to figure that out.

So if the student was symptomatic at school and realized, Oh, man, I don't feel good and went home.  Now we have to go back three days and really have those conversations with the students and the parents and figure out where they may have been and who they may have been contact with.

And then once we have all the direct contacts, we will send out a notification to everybody.  And for all the direct contacts that I will tell them the day they were in contact with the positive individual, and we'll tell them what symptoms to be on the lookout for.

We'll advise testing for day six afterwards so we can get them back into school as soon as possible.  And then we'll ask that they report those test results to their site nurse, who will then forward that on to us.  And we can get everything squared away for those kiddos, and they will need to do at least that seven day quarantine after the last exposure with a positive individual.

Now for everybody else in the classrooms, because that can be a little spooky if you've heard that somebody in your classroom has tested positive, especially at the high school level, that maybe like four or 5 classrooms.

If you haven't been identified as a direct contact, you're what we call an indirect contact, which I know can get a little confusing, but we'll still send you a communication.  We'll tell you what week you've had that exposure, what symptoms to be on the lookout for.  You can definitely go and receive a test if you want to.  However, you're not required to quarantine, you're not required to get a test or anything like that.  It's just kind of be on the lookout for it beyond a little bit higher alert, but it's not really something that you should be scared of at that point.

It's a lot of transparency within the district and we are trying to do our best.

Zachery Fountain:

Thank you for sharing that information.  I think that that's been one of the harder conversations this past year is that difference between direct and indirect notification.  And it's important that folks that receive those direct notifications for my office, it's going to be you have been in direct contact with somebody during this date.  We're advising that you get a test within this time frame, and then at that part, we kind of start the process and then indirect.

If somebody was on the site, we want to make sure that you're aware and you can monitor because, you know, there's that invisible timeline right there's that shedding process before you ever have a symptom that I think it's just something we have to keep in the forefront of folks minds.

Kacie Pajkos:

Yeah, absolutely.  

Zachery Fountain:

So, I mean, you've covered a lot.  There's a lot to unpack there.  Do you have any just kind of closing thoughts on things that we should be considering as families and team members are returning to school?

Kacie Pajkos:

Yeah, remember that it's not perfect what we're doing.  We're doing our absolute best and just be mindful of what you're doing and where you're standing because that can make a huge difference if you're standing four feet away from a person, maybe you're sitting at lunch with a friend, and you're four feet away from them versus being seven feet.

So that could be the difference of needing to quarantine and maybe not needing to quarantine. Just little things to really think about.

That we have really been talking about is masks.  Even though that direct contact language is with or without a mask, there's definitely a lot of evidence to say if you were wearing a mask, the chance is so much lower, especially if both parties were wearing a mask.

So you may still need to quarantine, but the chances that you got it are a lot lower. And so that is really something just to be on top of for sure.

Zachery Fountain:

It's that little piece of personal responsibility and awareness that really is going to help us in terms of keeping schools moving forward and getting kids back to school.  That's our favorite thing.  That's what we think we do best, and we're excited to have everybody back.

Kacie, thank you so much for being here today. We really do appreciate it.

And just a reminder for those that are listening. All of our safety updates are available at www dot fusd one dot org slash Safely Forward.  Thanks again for being here today.  We really appreciate it.

Kacie Pajkos:

Awesome.  Thank you for having me.