Dr. Sullivan on students going back to school: ‘If there is doubt, keep them out’

Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 5:53 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - Bryan and College Station ISDs have each confirmed at least one case of COVID-19 on a campus.

Texas A&M University is currently ordering the quarantine of all members of two sororities on campus because of confirmed cases.

Dr. Seth Sullivan, the Brazos County Alternate Health Authority, joined First News at Four on Thursday to discuss these new cases in light of back-to-school season.

What is your reaction to these cases?

Dr. Sullivan: “We’re ready for it, certainly prepared. This has been part of the plan throughout the summer and into the early fall to anticipate the inevitability of cases that are going to arise and ensuring that we have a good construct around those cases to ensure that they don’t spread further. That plan has already been implemented. So far, things are working. We’re getting the information back and understanding where the cases are. As we’ve talked about countless times over the last six months, the concept of ‘boxing it in,’ ensuring that we are testing, finding out who the contacts are, and ensuring that all who could be affected are being identified, tested and quarantined. All of that is happening right now, and I am confident that will help with that particular area. Very importantly here, if we continue those types of activities where large gatherings are occurring, especially in enclosed spaces indoors, this will continue. We’ll see more and more cases. We have to be aware of that fact.”

At what point do schools flip the switch to online-only instruction?

Dr. Sullivan: “The way that it’s been set up is that we have already been in constant contact with both Superintendents Whitbeck and Martindale, who have been very engaged in this process from the very beginning, and with the school nurses as well, to ensure that we know where the cases are. Where there are more than 10 percent of the individuals with a classroom or where we’re seeing more than 3 percent within an entire school, we’ll be having that discussion. Of course, we’ll really be having that discussion even before those numbers. We’re having that discussion every day. That discussion is around the cases that come in and the identification of where those cases are. A standardized process so that we can be quick to determine where the cases are, who would be a contact around that case, and ensuring that if we’re seeing a cluster, we’re able to act quickly.”

At what point do you think Texas A&M would move to only virtual instruction?

Dr. Sullivan: “The plan is and will continue to be—and interestingly, I am a student right now at the University of Notre Dame, and so I got that update yesterday that came forward about their student body. What they did there is they do still have their students on campus, but all students are now virtual. They’re taking a two-week period to get cases under control because they saw what they determined to be too many cases for their student population. Interestingly, at Notre Dame, and outside the campus areas, they traced these cases to off-campus activities—just like we’re seeing here. So, we think about all that the universities have put into place… the guards that they put forward to decrease transmission on campus. It is critical that that extends to the off-campus activity as well and that we social distance, we wear masks, and we don’t have large gatherings off campus. [Texas A&M] Provost [Carol] Fierke has been very actively engaged in this process, and we spoke this morning about what’s happened with the sororities and the way to mitigate what’s happened there. These discussions have been continuing. There are multiple criteria, data points, that are being evaluated to ensure that the best decision is made at the right time.”

For non-college students, how can parents make sure that their children don’t contract and/or don’t spread the virus?

Dr. Sullivan: “What’s in place at schools—they’ve done their very best to distance within the classrooms. Kids are wearing masks. Both of the superintendents were very pleased with the early onboarding of the teachers and the students into classes and the enthusiasm to comply with the implementation of these policies. Really, that’s what it comes down to: it’s following the guidance that is there. That includes monitoring for symptoms in our kids, and if there is doubt, we keep them out. If there is doubt, we have them home and make a phone call and say, ‘Hey, we have symptoms here, and we’re going to watch and we’re going to get tested.’ That is really the way that we need to monitor that moving forward. The health department knows about the cases who have already been there, and of course have not allowed those kids—have ensured those kids are not entering school on day one to further propagate the spread.”

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