Comal County Health Authority Disputes New COVID-19 Rules for Schools
Comal ISD says it welcomes the return of 3,000 students for in-person learning on Wednesday, but Comal County health authority Dr. Dorothy Overman, a consultant, isn’t welcoming the school district’s new rules for quarantine.
Comal and New Braunfels ISD earlier this month both changed their policy for quarantining mask-wearing students or staff suspected of exposure to COVID-19.
On Comal ISD.org, close contact with a lab-confirmed case is defined as
- being directly exposed to fluids from the mouth or nose (e.g. being coughed on) at any time in the last 14 days when the infected individual was infectious or
- being within six feet for a largely uninterrupted period throughout the course of a day totaling approximately 15 minutes at any time in the last 14 days when the infected individual was infectious. Beginning Oct. 19, if both individuals are properly masked they are not considered to be in close contact.
“Both CISD and NBISD have decided that students or staff who are identified as a close contact — within six feet or more for more than 15 minutes — of a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 will not be sent home to quarantine for 14 days from the date of exposure or date of a positive test if both the case and the exposed are wearing masks,” Overman posted on New Braunfels COVID19 Community Info Facebook page, which has 7,000 followers.
Overman is a family practitioner with Hill Country Medical Associates. In her Facebook post on Oct. 18, she also outlined the many legitimate reasons schools have reopened.
However, the school districts’ new policy does not align with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) guidelines that masks do not get anyone out of quarantine unless both masks are medical/surgical masks, she said. Comal County’s Public Health Department follows DSHS guidelines. Texas Education Agency (TEA) has a variance to the definition of close-contact that considers mask-wearing.
“In schools, the masks are cloth masks, not medical,” Overman said. “Comal County Public Health has always operated on Texas DSHS guidelines. Both school districts know this. It has been said in every interview, Zoom event, meeting, newspaper articles and is on the very first post of this Facebook page.”
Comal County did not return an email asking for clarification of what is discussed during weekly phone calls between Cheryl Fraser, director of the Office of Public Health, and area schools. Steve Stanford, executive director of Communications for Comal ISD, did not respond to an email asking for comment. NBISD Spokesperson Rebecca Villarreal referred MyCanyonLake.com to an Oct. 16 letter by NBISD Supt. Randy Moczygemba announcing the new policy would go into effect on Oct. 19.
“When a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, we will continue to do tracking and tracing to determine which students and/or staff have been in close contact, which is defined as six feet or less for more than 15 minutes,” Moczygemba said in his letter. “If both individuals in close contact are properly wearing masks, only the positive individual will be quarantined. This new practice was adopted due to the fact that we did not have any students who contracted COVID-19 after close contact with an individual who tested positive when both were wearing masks. This was tracked for every positive individual for the entire nine weeks.”
“More cases will lead to more cases in the community that will result in hospitalizations and deaths like we were experiencing in July.” –Comal County health authority, consultant and family practitioner Dr. Dorothy Overman
With a surge of COVID-19 cases expected over the months ahead, Overman said DSHS is very concerned this school policy change will contribute to more cases. She points to the rise in cases under the age of 20 posted to Comal County’s COVID-19 dashboard.
A recent survey of teachers in NBISD showed most teachers did not favor the change either, which Overman said will complicate their lives as well as those of school nurses.
“Now they (school nurses) have to explain to parents the change and the option of not going home and staying in school or going home to quarantine,” she said. “I am sure they are getting very hard to answer questions from parents.”
Overman questioned also Comal ISD’s statement that very few cases occurred in quarantined students.
“I take issue with that statistic because unless you tested every quarantined student after seven days of quarantine you have no idea how many cases were asymptomatic,” she said. “Up to 40% of cases are now known to be asymptomatic. Wearing masks works because if you are exposed you may only breathe in a small amount of virus. That can result in a very mild case or a case with no symptoms (asymptomatic). We now know that those are still contagious. So keeping all those exposed home kept these cases home and prevented them from spreading the virus.”
From the beginning of the pandemic, health experts have understood that contact-tracing and quarantining the exposed is the key to controlling spread of the virus, she said.
Her greatest concern is that exposed students will be allowed to continue to participate in all activities — even close-contact sports — with no masks on.
Teachers and staff who may have underlying health issues may be more vulnerable to severe illness, Overman said.
“More cases will lead to more cases in the community that will result in hospitalizations and deaths like we were experiencing in July,” she said.
“If we get a significant surge in cases then it will need to change back to the previous policy. Stay safe Comal County,” Overman said. “This virus is not gone. It’s just waiting for an opportunity to visit you.”
On its website today, Comal ISD reported 22 “current positive cases,” 36 “current symptomatic cases,” and 170 “current exposure-to-a-positive cases.”
Canyon Lake High School reports six current active cases, one current active symptomatic case, and eight current active exposure-to-a-positive cases. There are two positive cases, seven symptomatic cases and 15 exposures-to-positive cases at Mountain Valley Middle School. Mountain Valley Elementary School reports one active case, one active symptomatic case and one current active exposure-to-a-positive case. There is only one exposure-to-a-positive case reported at Starzville Elementary.
Comal ISD’s COVID-19 Active Case Management dashboard does not provide cumulative information about the number and types of cases reported in the district.
According to Comal County’s COVID-19 dashboard, 367 cases of the virus have been reported in children ages one to 18.
MyComalCounty.com, the county site, said Overman serves as a county health authority regarding medical matters that are addressed by the county public health director and environmental-health and environmental-enforcement offices administering enforcement programs and responsibilities.