Waunakee school district administrators, nurses and the district’s medical advisor are urging parents to keep home students who show any signs of a respiratory illness, including seasonal allergies.

Parents received an email from the district Friday indicating a rise in COVID-19 cases among adolescents in the past few weeks. Public Health Madison Dane County has seen an uptick in cases among ages 18-59, as well.

“We just need everybody to be very diligent about watching students and their symptoms,” said Randy Guttenberg, district administrator. A student may have a runny nose, develop a cough, and then test positive for COVID-19.

Guttenberg said the number of COVID cases in the district has been relatively stable since January, but the number of students who have had close contact is rising, causing more students to miss school.

Kurt Eley, director of student services, has been tracking the number of absences due either to exposure or a positive COVID-19 test. Contacted Monday, he said the most recent data showed 2.64 percent of students across the district absent for just these reasons. The number ebbs and flows as students quarantine or are tested and then are able to return to school, Guttenberg and Eley said.

According to the data Eley has collected, less than half a percent of students from elementary to intermediate school level were absent as of last week. The numbers at the middle school were 6.83 percent, and at the high school, 4.9 percent. As of last week, a total of 114 students were kept home either because they had COVID-19 or were in contact with someone with the virus.

The message asks parents with children who have tested positive to cooperate with contract tracers and help identify and communicate with all close contacts so as to minimize the spread of infection. It also outlines the county’s public health department’s quarantine protocols. Close contacts can quarantine for 10 days before returning to school, or be tested on or after day six to return to school after seven says.

Students ages 16 and over can now receive a vaccine.

The district’s message to parents notes that tracking of students with COVID is not indicating spread at schools; it adds that most of the transmission among young people is occurring when they are unmasked in social situations. Public HealthMadison Dane County notifies the district when a student tests positive, Guttenberg said.

“We’re not seeing them coming up positive that confirms any sort of transmission happening at school. So when you start to look at where transmission is happening, it seems to be occurring in other places other than our classrooms,” Guttenberg said.

School administrators anticipated when students were brought back in and within 6-foot radius, they would see more students identified as a close contact, Eley said.

“I don’t think any of us internally – we’ve been planning for this – were surprised by what we’re seeing,” Eley said.

The school board gave the district latitude to hire more people to do contract tracing, Guttenberg said.

“I think for some families, quarantining is very frustrating, particularly as you start to hear and see that we’re really not seeing the transmission in school and if a child’s out with no other connection to a positive student and is testing negative,” Guttenberg added.

District administrators are watching how the close contacts happen and the numbers of students who test positive from them.

The district is following guidelines and expectations provided by Public Health, Guttenberg said.

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