Coronavirus: New guidance says children don’t need to be screened

By , Daily Memphian Updated: August 18, 2020 4:58 PM CT | Published: August 18, 2020 12:41 PM CT

Because children often show no symptoms, authorities say they no longer need to be screened, including at school.

“That is informed by science,” said Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department, who reminded parents that it is critically important to keep children home if they are sick, including with gastro-intestinal symptoms, which are more common signs of COVID-19 in children. 

As schools resume in many districts and private schools, Haushalter says it is important people know the definitions of isolate and quarantine and of changes in when people can return to work or school.

Bulk of suburban districts step into the uncertainty of a new school year

“Isolation is still 10 days from the onset of symptoms or 10 days from the date of the test,” she said.

A person who had mild or no COVID-19 symptoms can return to work after isolating and being symptom-free for 24 hours, very much like the flu, Haushalter said.

People with moderate to more severe symptoms may be in isolation well over 20 days, she said, noting that it is important that employers and schools be prepared for absences of that length.

Quarantine is 14 days from the last contact with a positive person. People who have been exposed at home could be out 24 days, she said, including isolation and quarantine.

“That’s critical when we think about children in school,” she said, depending on who they were exposed to in their home and who the original case was.

“I do anticipate additional clarification and guidance from the state,” she said.

Tuesday, there were only 89 new cases, a tremendous drop from 243 and 229 on Aug. 15 and 16, although there have only been 601 more tests administered since Monday. 

Coronavirus: Fewer than 100 new cases reported but testing down, too

The disease doubling rate has slowed to 40 days, which means the county is seeing half the number of cases now than it was in early July.

The cumulative positivity rate since the pandemic began is 10.9%, a steady drop from around July 4, Haushlater said, when masking was mandated across the county and limited-service restaurants were closed.

“We’re now down to 13.5% for the past week. We want to get that well below 10%; and once we get to 10% we want to look at a 5% positivity rate,” she said.

In early July, the seven-day rate was 15.39%.

“And, the other promising news is that our reproductive rate is now below one, and has been for several weeks. That’s a really promising sign.

“What I want to point out, is while all of this is promising, it’s really critical that we stay the course,” she said, a challenge in the mild summer days the region is experiencing.

“We see our numbers trending downward, and we want to get back to our normal, or what I’ll call our pre-pandemic normal, and we really can’t do that. 

“We have to continue to stay focused on where we are, and we need to remain vigilant,” she said, particularly as school and related activities resume.

People going to Friday night games this weekend should plan how they are going to socially distance and wear masks throughout the game, she said.

“It may mean taking a second mask with you in case your first mask gets wet or damp, and therefore is no longer effective.”

Others need to decide if they should go at all.

If it won’t be possible to wash hands, take sanitizer, she said.

Haushalter said the Health Department will not be releasing specific coronavirus information on children and their school systems. The state is publishing the number of children who test positive and their ages.

Haushalter said she was not aware of schools that might be reconsidering plans for athletics after 12 Harding Academy announced Tuesday that a total of 12 athletes on three teams had tested positive. 

High school goes virtual after COVID outbreak

Jenny Bartlett-Prescott, Church Health chief operating officer and testing lead for the Task Force testing subcommittee, said all community testing sites have recovered from capacity issues that dogged testing here for weeks in late July and early August. 

“Currently, we have the ability to perform 8,200 tests a week at 30 sites around the county,” including drugstores and other public venues. 

The sites are listed online. New information shows which are are testing children. 

“We have wide availability for testing for children,” Bartlett-Prescott said.

Testing is being used at less than 70% of capacity now, which means people without symptoms will be able to get appointments. 

“Please call for an appointment so we can make sure that people with known exposure are able to get tests.”

The “golden question,” she said, is what number the community needs to be testing to identify places where the disease is spreading.

The task force is using data to see where it to add mobile testing units and is also exploring new test varieties. 

“We are hopeful testing will become easier and easier, including with saliva tests. We are definitely planning toward the cold and flu season to make sure testing meets demand,” she said.

Demand for testing is down in the county. Haushalter attributes it to fewer ill or symptomatic people. At its peak around July 4, she says it’s likely people were getting tested as an insurance before holiday gatherings or vacations. 

Saliva testing, she said, would mean add flexibility.

“We are not ready to do that right now, but we are definitely planning towards cold and flu season in our safety-net group to make sure that our testing capacity remains enough to meet the demand.”

Dorcas Young Griffin, director of Shelby County Division of Community Services, noted that Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division will lift its moratorium on power cutoffs and late fees beginning Monday, Aug. 24.

“We recognize many are still struggling and have bills piling up,” Young Griffin said. “We are still available to help people with services as they need them.”

One resource is the Shelby County Community Services Agency, which can provide up to $650 for utility bills, based on income. Applications are online. MIFA also provides onetime emergency utility assistance. Applications can be found online.

The state Emergency Cash Assistance Program is also available. On the Tennessee Department of Human Services website, there is an application. The deadline for this program has been extended to Aug. 29.

“I thank the community for being patient with us as we process applications, as we work to ensure that every person in this community can get the help and assistance that they need,” Young Griffin said.

“I encourage you not to wait until the last minute. August 24 is coming.” 

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coronavirus Shelby County Health Department COVID-19 Joint Task Force Jenny Bartlett-Prescott Dorcas Young Griffin Alisa Haushalter
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.

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