Alcoa City Schools began notifying families that someone who had been at the middle school tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday after the third day of classes.

An email to families said an “individual” tested positive, and Director Becky Stone told The Daily Times she would not confirm whether it was a student or staff member to maintain confidentiality.

“We don’t release that,” Stone said in a phone interview Saturday, July 25. “If it is a student and they’re being quarantined, it’s easy to figure out who it is.”

While this is the first known case since classes began Wednesday,, July 22, Stone confirmed a student and a staff member had tested positive before students returned to the buildings.

She said the schools also have been contacted about students with positive COVID-19 results before their return to the schools and told them to quarantine for 14 days before showing up on campus.

Rapid result

The person who was at Alcoa Middle School had a rapid COVID-19 test Friday, received the results the same day and contacted Principal Scott Porter, Stone said.

He called her around 5:30 p.m., and she assembled a team including the nursing supervisor, a school nurse and the district’s human resource director. “We started contact tracing, and we started doing phone calls immediately,” Stone said.

While the local and regional health departments also conduct contract tracing for COVID-19 cases, Alcoa City Schools does not wait for them. “We want to start the process as soon as we find out,” the director said.

Stone has been sending daily emails to Alcoa City Schools parents and included the case in the “COVID-19 Update” section on Friday, July 24. The first email did not tell parents how quickly they would be notified if their child had been in contact with the person, so a later email that night explained that “anyone who has been in close contact with this person will be notified by phone messaging system and email within the next 24 hours.”

On Saturday morning, July 25, another email assured parents that all notifications had been made, Stone said.

Quarantine and cleaning

For contact tracing, the school district pinpoints anyone who could have been within 6 feet of the person for 15 minutes or longer, and Stone said few fell into that category.

With a staggered start planned at least until Labor Day, Alcoa schools have less than 20% of students in the building each day. “It allows us to do so much social distancing, even on buses,” Stone said.

In addition to regular, heightened cleaning because of the pandemic, the schools conduct extra cleaning in areas where they know a person with the coronavirus has been.

ACS policy requires children to quarantine for 14 days after exposure to someone with COVID-19, unless they provide a doctor’s note or negative test result saying they may return earlier.

Staff members may continue working in the schools after potential exposure to someone with the coronavirus if the employee has no symptoms, wears a face mask and follows other health protocol.

“We didn’t go into this blind,” Stone said. “We knew that there would be cases. We prayed not.”

However, she said, whether students are in school or not there will be cases of COVID-19. “We are committed to keeping everybody as safe as we can,” she said.

While some people have disagreed with schools’ reopening, Stone said, “We still felt like this was the best thing for our students.”

When there is a case, she said, “We will handle it as quickly and efficiently as we can.”

Chromebook computers are being given to students so they will be prepared if the schools go to all digital learning.

Only 200 were enrolled for virtual learning to start the school year, with the rest choosing traditional classroom instruction.

“I still think we’ve had a very successful three days,” Stone said.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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