Delay in contact tracing exposes many to COVID-19

Prior to the week of March 23, students were contact traced and mandated to quarantine for 10 days if they sat within six feet of an exposed student. Staples' contact tracing guidelines were eased to mandate quarantining if students are within three feet apart of an exposure.

Graphic by Lily Klau '23

Prior to the week of March 23, students were contact traced and mandated to quarantine for 10 days if they sat within six feet of an exposed student. Staples’ contact tracing guidelines were eased to mandate quarantining if students are within three feet apart of an exposure.

Lily Klau ’23, Staff Writer

Westport students are experiencing delays in receiving notifications from the school about possible exposures to COVID-19. In some instances, students who were in contact with a positive COVID-19 case were not notified until several days after they were exposed, resulting in a large web of people needing to quarantine.

“It took the school five days after I was exposed before I found out I had to quarantine,” Madeline Barney ’23 said.  

When contact tracing is delayed, it can result in people not knowing that they are possible carriers for COVID-19, which increases the risk of exposure for others.

“I went to all of my classes, soccer practice, a soccer game against another team, I went to restaurants with my family,” Juliet Tracy ’23 said. “I went into public during those four days it took for me to find out, so I definitely came into contact with a lot of people who I don’t even know.” 

There is a delay in testing. So if you get tested on, let’s say a Tuesday, you might not get the results until Thursday or Friday. So, the delay is not on our end. It’s a combination of testing and reporting.””

— RN Anna Fitzpatrick

As of March 23, Staples had 16 positive cases and 103 people in quarantine. 

“I believe that the people should be informed right as the school knows,” Eoin Cuddy ’23 said. “Not doing this is only making the situation worse when we should be trying to make it better.” 

But the delay may not be due to a failing in the school’s reporting system at all.  

“Within a few hours of finding out, we have contacted everyone that needs to be contacted,” RN Anna Fitzpatrick said.

One source for the delay is due to the gap in time between being tested and getting the testing results.  The school is not notified every time a person takes a test.  Instead, the school is only notified after a positive test result is logged, and that result can often take multiple days.

“There is a delay in testing,” Fitzpatrick acknowledged. “So if you get tested on, let’s say a Tuesday, you might not get the results until Thursday or Friday. So, the delay is not on our end. It’s a combination of testing and reporting.”

According to Fitzpatrick, the school nursing staff is on call and working to notify people of possible COVID exposures all days of the week and at all hours of the day. 

“This is on weekends, this is on Friday nights, this is on Sundays. It has been a tremendous effort,” Fitzpatrick said.

Lynn Enquist, the mother of a Staples student, understands contact tracing places a great burden on the administration but agrees any delay endangers students and their families.

“I have great empathy for both the school administration and students alike during such unprecedented times, especially as privacy continues to be a top priority,” Enquist said. “However, better management of contact tracing and testing protocols allowing results to be shared quickly would benefit the students, as not knowing the outcome creates a great amount of unnecessary stress, anxiety and concern.”