Metro school says contact tracing app helping keep kids in the classroom amid COVID-19 pandemic

Metro school says contact tracing app helping keep kids in the classroom amid COVID-19 pandemic

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Parents want to feel confident about sending their children to school for face-to-face learning during the pandemic.

But they’re not just concerned about their children getting the coronavirus — they’re also worried their children could pass it on to them or their grandparents.

A Forsyth County private school is using a contact tracing tool to help protect students and their families.

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Pinecrest Academy has seen cases but hasn’t had to switch to remote learning.

The school is also using an app to screen students to help keep the virus out of its classrooms.

“Did you guys do temperatures yet?” Karen Kress asked her two children who attend Pinecrest.

Each morning before leaving for school, Karen Kress or her husband, Rich Kress, make sure their children Shannon and Ryan check their temperatures.

They enter the readings into the app and answer a few health questions.

“And then you go through a series of, oh, I guess it’s about eight questions, and then it gives you the green light to go to school,” said Kress.

The app is one of many safety measures the school is taking in addition to following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Georgia Department of Health guidelines.

But Pinecrest has seen a handful of COVID-19 cases.

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“(As of Sept. 23,) we have managed five cases within our student base. And our protocols have helped us to narrow down the number of students who had to go into quarantine,” said Charlene Dougal, the assistant head of Pinecrest Academy.

The school’s administrators and nurse use a campus health tracker developed by Alpharetta-based data analytics company IPC Global to help identify students who need to quarantine and do contact tracing.

“What we’re trying to do here is put out little fires,” said Mark Meersman, the managing partner at IPC Global. He explained how the tool works.

“When we look down into our campuses, we can see those students, teachers and even families that have positive tests,” said Meersman.

Pinecrest administrators can look at a dashboard with real-time information to help monitor the virus.

“I look at that screen every day, and it’s the best thing about that tracker because it tells me — by school — number of cases, number of quarantine, number recovered. You know, number we’re kind of keeping an eye on, or maybe, they’re waiting for a test result,” said Dougal.

There’s also a version of the dashboard for parents.

“We can see how many cases in the middle school, how many cases in the lower school, how many cases in the high school, what’s going on at any moment, which is really nice,” said Rich Kress.

“You can see how many active cases there have been. They’ve done contact tracing, so then they know who that active case came in contact with,” said Karen Kress.

The school’s protocols were put to the test when the day after a football game, Pinecrest learned a player on the opposing team tested positive for COVID-19.

“Our coach literally took film. We found out the number, the guy’s number, on the other team. And we with a stopwatch, he literally tracked how many contacts and for how long,” said Dougal.

The school took that list to the Department of Public Health.

“And the most contact anyone had with that guy was 45 seconds. So because we could prove it, and we had film, nobody had to go on quarantine,” said Dougal.

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Pinecrest leaders learned about a case affecting the cheer squad right as they were about to leave for a game.

“We had to stop the bus, get kids off the bus and explained quarantine before we ever told mom and dad. That’s not how we want this to play out,” said Dougal.

The Kress family decided to hold off on fall sports for their children. But the way Pinecrest handled the cheer squad incident changed their minds about letting the children play winter sports.

“We basically saw from that how quickly they can react and move with that. So that made us feel comfortable about putting our kids in winter sports,” said Rich Kress.

Pinecrest does require students to wear masks indoors and said the younger ones are very good about it.

There is a little bit of resistance from some high school students. But if they don’t come to school with a mask, they are given one to wear.

Metro school says health tracker, plexiglass will help keep kids safe for in-person classes this year