CHESTERFIELD Co., Va. (WWBT) - Complaints are pouring in over changes to quarantine requirements for Chesterfield County employees.
Many Chesterfield County Public School teachers said they are worried these changes will put schools at higher risk for a COVID-19 outbreak.
NBC12 received numerous emails from community members and teachers regarding an email sent out by CCPS Executive Director of Communications and Community Engagement, Tim Bullis, on Wednesday evening to faculty.
The email read in part:
“Attached is a slightly revised Employee Daily Health Self-Assessment form.
Question No. 2 has been changed to eliminate asking if anyone in your family has had close contact with or cared for anyone diagnosed with or suspected to have COVID-19. This update was requested by the Employee Medical Center to assist with questions from school division employees. A potential second-hand contact would not require quarantining or contact with the EMC.”
On Thursday, Bullis said the guidance was issued by the Chesterfield County Department of Risk Management who published the changes to the COVID-19 Employee Daily Health Self-Assessment form at the request of the Chesterfield Employee Medical Center.
“This revision was requested by the Employee Medical Center to help clarify the questions for CCPS staff,” said an email from the Dept. of Risk Management to Bullis. “The revised form has also been uploaded to the Environmental Health & Safety C-Net site under COVID-19 Guidance.”
On Friday, Chesterfield County spokeswoman Susan Pollard said the email sent by the school system created “unnecessary confusion” regarding the rewording of a specific question on the form. Rather, the adjustment was made due to a high call volume at the county’s Employee Medical Center regarding second or third-party contacts with possible COVID-19 exposure.
“Chesterfield County has not changed any of its practices to safeguard county and school employees,” she added.
The statement provided to NBC12 on Friday reads in part:
“Originally, question 2 on the form asked if “you or anyone in your household had close contact with or cared for anyone diagnosed with, suspected to have or experienced symptoms consistent with COVID-19”. Due to the significant volume of calls from individuals to the Employee Medical Center (EMC) asking about second or third-party contacts with other individuals exposed to COVID-19 and the confusion it was creating, it was determined that to better serve employees the wording of question 2 should be reviewed. The EMC contacted the Department of Risk Management to rewrite question 2 in a manner that properly reflects the current CDC approved practice of screening, which Chesterfield follows. Therefore, the wording was changed to read “have you” instead of “have you or anyone in your household”. The change in the wording on question 2 was made on the form. This did not change any protocols the county follows in screening and investigating potential COVID-19 exposures. This was only a change in wording designed to educate employees about what constitutes potential COVID-19 exposures.
It’s apparent there was some confusion by the change in wording on the form to accurately reflect our practice since the pandemic began. It also appears school employees may be unaware of the partnership the EMC continues to seek with schools that will provide additional access to medical professionals. With an unclear screening question on the health assessment form, teachers back in the schools, and the continuing pandemic, there has been a significant increase in the demand for services from the EMC. The EMC reached out to schools to request a team approach to managing the largest health crisis this country has experienced in the past 100 years. The approach includes having the school nurses conduct preliminary COVID-19 screening of school employees. With 60 registered nurses, one assigned to every school, this screening assistance will help maintain the high-quality of healthcare provided and it will increase our responsiveness by being able to answer questions in a timely manner.”
Pollard added county leaders have worked to incorporate as many safeguards for school and county employees throughout the pandemic.
“Chesterfield County remains committed to implementing the necessary measures, in accordance with the Governor’s directives, VDH, and CDC guidelines, to safeguard our employees, teachers and residents,” the statement said.
“I wish I could be more articulate, but they are leaving us dumbfounded and feeling hopeless,” said Emma Clark, a CCPS teacher and organizer for Chesterfield Educators United.
Clark continues to stay at home instead of heading into the classroom to teach. She said this week she was reprimanded for refusing to teach in-person due to coronavirus concerns.
“Even though my intention was to continue teaching [virtually], CCPS has deactivated my teaching account,” Clark said.
However, she is aware of the email sent out by Chesterfield Schools. The email stated employees will no longer be asked in the daily self-assessment whether they live with someone who may have been exposed to COVID-19; those employees do not need to quarantine, only those with direct contact do.
“So at this point, even if you live with someone who is in contact with a person who has COVID, you shouldn’t report that, you shouldn’t do contact tracing or anything like that,” Clark said.
Current CDC guidelines do not mandate a quarantine for those not in direct contact with a COVID patient.
However, Clark and others who emailed NBC12, believe Chesterfield’s change could increase the risk of COVID-19 spreading in schools.
“It’s just outrageous given the reality of the pandemic right now that Chesterfield would be lowering the bar for us checking to see if we’re safe,” Clark said.
Chesterfield Education Association President Sonia Smith also released a statement on the matter reading:
“The Chesterfield Education Association understands that there are key mitigating strategies that have been set forth by the CDC under their “Indicators for Dynamic School Decision-Making.” CEA also understands that when anyone - not just school employees - discovers that they have been exposed to someone that has been exposed to a family member who has tested positive for COVID-19 (especially if they live with them), they should have the ability to test. Removing this opportunity for employees potentially opens up an X-factor that could create blind-spots in contact tracing that is necessary to keep our schools and greater community safe. Without robust testing, the school-division and the greater community will remain in the dark about where we truly are with transmittal rates, hot spots, and more. A level of reassurance that employees though they had has, in part, been removed.”
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