As schools and colleges have started opening around the country, the daily news often includes reports of COVID-19 outbreaks.

As schools and colleges have started opening around the country, the daily news often includes reports of COVID-19 outbreaks among students — resulting in the subsequent switch to all distance learning. Understanding the requirement to not disclose private health information, I wondered both where those reports were coming from and also how our local schools will handle instances of COVID-19 infection in their school communities.

The first question has an easy answer — infections became so numerous that school districts and colleges publicly announced the changes they were compelled to make in how they deliver instruction. No doubt, social media posts of large gatherings of college students also became known to news organization.

What will the schools in Sleepy Eye do if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in their school?

That answer is that they will follow protocols from the Minnesota Department of Health in conjunction with their partnership with Brown County Public Health.

Both Sleepy Eye Public School and St. Mary’s Catholic School have notified parents/guardians that students are required to stay home when they are sick, which is also required of school staff. If a student displays symptoms of COVID-19 illness while at school, parents will be notified to come pick up their child; ill staff will be sent home.

How will families and school staff be informed of confirmed cases?

This is where health privacy laws affect what happens. Brown County Public Health is the agency that works with confirmed cases. In the case of a student with the illness, BCPH must ask the parent or guardian for permission to inform the school.

Karen Moritz, Director of Brown County Public Health said the agency will handle contact tracing, reaching out to any person a student or staff member with a confirmed case has been in contact with.

SEPS’s document for returning to school describe’s how the process will work: In cooperation with Brown County Health and Human Services, SEPS will closely monitor any developments related to COVID cases, exposures, hospitalizations, and any other scenarios that may enact change to the school’s operation. In the event that there is an increase in cases impacting the school, SEPS will coordinate with BCPH to implement the health and safety protocols to ensure the safety of the school population. This may include the closure of school facilities until they are deemed safe to reopen. It may also require an adjustment in instructional delivery.

St Mary’s will also work with BCPH. Their information for parents stated: Schools will inform families and employees of the public-health recommendations for quarantining after exposure to COVID-19.

Also: The principals will consult with the New Ulm Diocesan Superintendent before announcing short-term closures. Catholic schools will follow the New Ulm Diocesan decision on how Catholic schools will respond to any closure announced by the governor or the public school district.