HUDSON — A school investigation specialist will be brought in to perform COVID-19 contact tracing in Columbia County’s school districts, according to the county Health Department.
The position will be funded by the state and will be free of charge to county taxpayers.
The majority of schools in Columbia County reopen Tuesday for a new year. In a year unlike any other, many schools are dealing with teaching students in a hybrid of in-person classes and remote learning.
“Our COVID-19 team is anticipating a big spike in contact tracing once the schools are open,” Columbia County Health Department Director Jack Mabb said Monday in a statement. “This position will be a valuable resource for the Department of Health and schools. It’s a good idea overall and I’m certainly grateful for the free position.”
New York state will be covering the expense of the new full-time position for at least the next year, with a possibility of an extension if needed.
Contact tracers help to limit the possible spread of COVID-19. They reach out to people who have been in contact with other people who have been newly diagnosed with COVID, and help to collect and record their information.
They also provide people who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive with information on state isolation and quarantine procedures and if necessary provide them with information on testing.
The contact tracers will also serve as a liaison between schools, organizations and local health authorities.
Mabb said the county has someone in mind to recommend for the position who is a former nurse who has been trained in contact tracing. New York state will have final approval on who is hired for the position.
As part of their reopening plan for the fall, schools were required to create plans for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.
“The state likes to get its data, and have its data be timely and accurate,” Mabb said in an interview. “This person is going to be in charge of making sure that the state department dashboard is updated everyday. The other thing is the contact tracing. I think that the state is very aware certainly with our experiences at Oneonta and some of the other colleges around the state, the number of positives, and the number of people you would have to be contacting could get out of hand very quick.”
The state last week launched a new public coronavirus interactive tool, called the COVID-19 Report Card. It tracks COVID infection rates and test results in each school district in the state.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order that requires school districts, laboratories, testing sites and all local health departments to report coronavirus data to the state Health Department daily to be included in the new tracker.
As of Monday afternoon, all six Columbia County school districts were using the COVID-19 Report Card and reported that no one has had to be tested for coronavirus.
The state Health Department has said it is important to answer a call people may receive from NYS Contact Tracing at 518-387-9993. This is the way contact tracers reach out to individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
“I think everyone has concerns with someone new coming into our system, so when I learned of this position I took the idea to my staff. To a person, they were adamantly in favor,” Mabb said.
Mabb said he has not been given more information from the state about when the position would be starting, but he hopes the position is filled soon as schools have started for the semester.
Columbia County will be holding walk-up COVID-19 testing facilities on Sept. 22 and Sept. 29, from 9-11 a.m. at the sidewalk in front of John L. Edwards Elementary School, 360 State St., Hudson.
People wishing to get tested need to wear a mask, bring a photo ID and any insurance information they have. Preregistration is not required. If you are uninsured or underinsured, you may be eligible for a lower fee or no fee for a COVID test.
The tests are performed with nasopharyngeal swabs that are used to detect the virus in actively sick people. They are not antibody tests.
The kits used at these testing sites were purchased with the help of private donations to Columbia County, according to the county Health Department.