The Cabrillo Unified School District announced last week that the San Mateo County Office of Education has entered into a contract with WorkSite Labs to assist local school districts with contact tracing.

“We don’t have a substantial number of cases every week, but they all do need to be contact-traced thoroughly, so that’s really what takes a lot of time,” said Martha Ladd, director of educational support services at Cabrillo Unified School District.

WorkSite Labs follows the protocols outlined in the Pandemic Recovery Framework. Beginning immediately, in partnership with the school district, WorkSite Labs will research the positive cases and determine close contacts, quarantine periods, modified quarantine, return dates and test dates. The schools will notify close contacts and update the community.

The procedure for contact tracing for families and staff members in the Cabrillo Unified School District begins if a student or a member of the student's family tests positive for COVID-19. The family should contact the principal who will direct callers to call WorkSite Labs, (833) 502-2570, to begin contact tracing. The site principal will also contact WorkSite Labs with the initial information.

Next, WorkSite Labs will call the family to begin the research part of contact tracing. Once contact tracing is complete, the company will make contact with families and staff about quarantine protocol, testing protocols and return dates. WorkSite Labs will also send out close contact notifications and community notification of a positive case.

“Having a professional company take that over, and they can focus on that and I’m able to do other things, that’s a huge lift off of me and other principals as well,” said Cunha Intermediate School Principal James Barnes.

Schools in the district have been doing active contact tracing since returning to campus in the spring. Teams at each school site, including the principals and other designees, were trained in the John Hopkins COVID-19 tracing course and have had regular, ongoing training through the San Mateo County Office of Education.

All contact tracing was handled in-house and headed by Susan Vana, the district nurse. The local on-site teams worked with the district teams, who worked in collaboration with San Mateo Public Health Care.

The teams at district schools were tasked with contacting teachers to find close contacts of positive cases, contacting families, explaining protocol for quarantine, where to get tested and when students could return to school.

“I have to say I cheered when we found out that was going to happen,” said Half Moon Bay High School Principal John Nazar. “I have been spending a significant amount of time during my days on contact tracing.

“It’s so important and it has to be done in a very quick, timely manner, meaning everything that I could and should be doing had to be dropped and pushed aside to help with our first priority. That consumed a lot of time,” he said. “It’s a relief, in a sense, to have experts, that this is their field, this is what they do.”

Schools are still engaging in opt-in, pool testing for students. Once a week a team comes to the schools and takes a group of students and swabs each student in the pool. The swabs are compiled in one lab container, which gets tested. If that test is negative, the assumption is that no one in that group has COVID-19. If the test comes back positive, each individual is tested.

“I’m just very pleased with how well our school has been doing,” said Barnes. “None of our cases have been spread as far as we know from student to student at school. I think our masking and hand sanitizer and asking kids to be safe and so on have been working. I’m very pleased about it. The kids have been great about masking and being careful and safe, and so has our staff.”

Emma Spaeth is a staff writer for the Half Moon Bay Review covering community, arts and sports. Emma grew up in Half Moon Bay before earning a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Oregon.

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