Oakland Co. epidemiologist talks contact tracing for classrooms

As debates rage on about how to safely educate our kids during a pandemic, in the world of science another debate is going on. Will school-aged children spread the virus? 

As research is being done in real-time, the simple answer right now is that we don't know. 

"There's not really credible data out there to suggest kids don't transmit. It might be more difficult because, again, their coughs might be weaker because they're smaller and their lungs are smaller. But there's not credible data out there to say we don't have to worry about kids. So, as the health division, we're operating under the impression that anyone regardless of your age can transmit this," said Kayleigh Blaney, an infectious disease epidemiologist in Oakland County. 

So let's say there is a positive COVID-19 case at your child's school - how does contact tracing work to stop the spread? 

"There are personal contacts. So, I was at, you know, a friend's house, a family member's house - those are what we call personal contacts. So when we're talking to somebody who's a case of coronavirus we ask them who have you been around personally? And then we get the information of those individuals and we follow up with them to notify them that they need to stay home," she said. 

"We will work with the school to try and find out how many students are in that classroom, what does your seating chart look like, where would this student have been during the day, to try and make sure that we're eliciting as many of those close contacts as possible but also to make sure that we're not isolating a bunch of individuals that there's no reason to isolate."

This means keeping COVID-19 from spreading requires scientific detective work, and a little work from all of us. 

"So the specific formula we use is the same that the CDC recommends, so it would be within six feet for 15 minutes or more and then we would assess the specific situation with the masks," she said. 

"The only thing we can advise schools right now is, we know with little kids it's tough to get them to keep those masks on but the more people wear masks and the more they wear them responsibly, the less likely we're going to be to have to recommend isolation for an entire classroom of students if a case appears."

One of the biggest challenges is knowing who has the virus. Kayleigh explains the spectrum of symptoms goes from nothing, to just headaches, to gastro issues, all the way to fever and breathing struggles. Scientists will tell you it's much easier to trace something like the measles because everyone gets the tell-tale rash.