Fort Benning Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga. – Parents should make sure they've given schools here their current phone numbers and email addresses in case the school needs to contact them about a possible or confirmed COVID-19 case, officials say in a video.
And they should make sure they don't send a sick child to school, whatever the ailment, they say in the video, which is hosted by Col. Matthew Scalia, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning.
Appearing with Scalia are Dr. Christy Huddleston, southeast district superintendent with the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), and Lt. Col. Scott H. Robinson, chief of Fort Benning's Public Health Department at Martin Army Community Hospital.
The department includes a team that works to track down who might have had contact with someone infected with COVID-19, a process known as contact tracing.
In the video they spell out the basic steps authorities will follow if a student or school staff member may have COVID-19. And they offer guidance on how parents can help protect their children and others from the virus.
If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 at any of Fort Benning's schools, authorities would take several steps:
- The school notifies parents and others in the school community, and Fort Benning's public health team.
- The team gathers relevant details and makes a medical judgment as to what actions to take. Those could include 14-day quarantine for one or more children or school staff members who had contact with the infected person.
- At the end of that period the team makes a final assessment as to whether any further measures are needed, and if so, what those will be.
In notifying parents, schools would use the AtHoc message system, phone calls or email, says Huddleston.
"So it's real important for parents to receive these AtHoc calls," she says. "So if your phone number has changed or your email address has changed, please make sure you contact the school and give them that information. Because that's how we get information out to the school."
In deciding whether quarantine is needed, the public health team would weigh several factors, including: how close physically children were to the person who's tested positive, whether masks were being worn at the time of exposure, and what the state of ventilation was in the place where the contact occurred, among other factors, Robinson explains in the video.
Besides quarantine, isolation is also a possibility. Quarantine is used when it's not yet clear whether someone is infected; isolation is used when it's confirmed that they have a given disease and could infect others.
"The contact-trace team is all health care team members," Robinson says, "and then they will call the patients, call the people who are contacts of the patients and determine who warrants quarantine and who warrants isolation, based on their test results and their risk of them getting COVID."
If a child has COVID-19 symptoms, "you should definitely bring them" for COVID-19 testing to the Pediatric Respiratory Care Clinic on Fort Benning's Sand Hill section, Robinson says.
But to test a child who does not show symptoms, testing is not available on Fort Benning but can be done through the Columbus Health Department in downtown Columbus, Georgia.
"If your kid is asymptomatic, because of the ongoing resource constraints and policy decisions, we cannot test asymptomatic persons," he says. The Columbus Health Department" has availability of testing of people that are asymptomatic," says Robinson. "So it's still available but it's not available on post."
Robinson advises waiting about five days before seeking a test for a child who's not showing symptoms.
"I would only get your kid tested after several days," he says. "The day after contact they're unlikely to be positive even if they're an asymptomatic case. You probably want to wait a good five days."
Also in the video, Scalia reminds parents of their responsibility to make sure their children aren't sick before sending them to school.
He gives the reminder by first holding up a copy of the pre-screening protocol and acknowledgement parents were given to sign and return to the school.
"So remember," Scalia says, "the standard is, we have to, as parents, pre-screen our children within two hours of their arrival to school. That is a courtesy for all their classmates and the teachers and the faculty. So we have a responsibility in being disciplined."
Scalia also reminds parents of the symptoms to watch for, which include a temperature of 100.4 Fahrenheit or higher; a sore throat; a new, uncontrolled cough that causes difficulty breathing; diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain; or a new onset of a severe headache, especially with a fever.
"So please have this pinned to your refrigerator," he says of the protocol. "Make sure you're checking your children before they head out to school."
"Just know," says Huddleston, "that if your child is sick, or even if you're unsure, when in doubt, stay out. Keep 'em home."
Because of the pandemic, absence will not harm a child's school record, Huddleston says.
"There's no attendance policy in play any longer," she says. "And so, there's no punitive actions taken based on number of days absent from school.
"So we understand that we're in this pandemic," she says. "We understand that we're going to have higher absentee rates. And we just want people to stay home if they feel sick. And to know that we're going to help and support children who have to stay home because they feel sick, and help them make up their work."
In addition, Scalia notes, Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahoe, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, has told leaders here to grant leeway to Soldiers who during the pandemic may need to be home to help care for a family member.
"We have a responsibility of providing latitude," says Scalia, "to these service members when there's somebody in the family who's positive or when they need to stay home with a child who's in quarantine."
The video can be viewed online at: https://vimeo.com/473972664/c1599c24f6.