OTTAWA — Early contact tracing efforts by the Putnam County Health Department suggest that students who have tested positive for COVID-19 during the first several weeks of the new school year are primarily contracting the virus from parents and other interactions outside of school, rather than in the classroom.
Sherri Recker, director of nursing for the Putnam County Health Department, said during a conference call with business leaders on Wednesday that most of the student cases the department has investigated thus far have been traced back to parents or other household members.
The department has not identified any cases that it believes were transmitted in school, although Recker said on Wednesday that at least one case was still under investigation.
More student cases are expected in Ohio as in-person schooling continues, particularly in communities where the virus is spreading quickly.
Putnam County has seen its case counts rise rapidly in recent weeks, as the county was elevated to a Level 3 (Red) Public Health Emergency last Thursday and now claims the highest number of new cases per capita in Ohio at 301.2 cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks, as of Monday.
The prevalence of community spread has already compelled Columbus Grove schools to transition to a hybrid learning model through at least the end of the first quarter.
Recker said on Wednesday that adults should limit their outings and attendance at large gatherings as much as possible.
“If we can just cut that line of (transmission),” she said, “the kids getting it from adults, we would be in a lot better place than we are right now.”
Still, Tami Gough, director of prevention and health promotion services for Allen County Public Health, said that it is often difficult to identify the source of an infection when community transmission is high, as it is in much of northwest Ohio and the Lima region, and even within households it is hard to determine who was infected first because some people may be asymptomatic or develop symptoms later than others.
And even though masks are now required in schools, there are exceptions to the rule that could leave students and staff more vulnerable to contracting the virus when they least suspect it, such as while eating lunch or playing an instrument.
“Those are potential areas where kids may have their masks off for longer periods of time that could cause a risk for transmission,” Auglaize County Health Commissioner Oliver Fisher said.
Like Putnam County, Fisher said the Auglaize County Health Department has not confirmed any case of a student contracting COVID-19 while in school. But he cautioned that it’s still early in the school year. And even though schools are taking precautions, “there’s always that chance it could happen when you have groups of people coming together,” Fisher said.