‘There’s just no protection for them,’ contact tracers in Marion County urging parents to vaccinate, mask their school-age kids

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Boys and girls sitting at desks, raising hands (Getty Images).

MARION COUNTY, Ind. — As testing for COVID-19 continues to climb so does the need for contact tracing.

According to the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health, which helps with contact tracing for Marion County, those contact tracing efforts have jumped nearly 700% over the past month.

“In the last week our numbers have really hopped up,” said Shandy Dearth, Director of the Center for Public Health Practice at Fairbanks. “At this point, we’re over 200 cases a day many days.”

Dearth said averaging 200 cases per day is a big jump compared to the 25-30 cases per day tracers were doing in late June and early July. Dearth said contact tracers have not seen this many cases since February.

“I was hoping we wouldn’t be, but with schools starting back and with so few schools having mask mandates in place it’s not surprising, unfortunately,” said Dearth.

According to Dearth, the largest increase has been among school-age children. She said those in the K-12 age group now make up more than 30% of their contact tracing efforts.

“We’re just seeing a lot of the unvaccinated students,” said Chenel Darby, a K-12 contact tracing supervisor with Fairbanks. “Like that just shot through the roof within the last two weeks. There’s just no protection for them.”

As a K-12 supervisor, Darby works specifically on contact tracing cases that link to area schools. With a majority of K-12 students ineligible for vaccination, Darby said it’s important to vaccinate those students who are eligible.

“They need to be vaccinated, not just have the option to be. They need to be because that protects the younger kids where that is going up – those cases are rising,” said Darby.

 With more schools returning to in-person learning in the coming weeks, contact tracers with Fairbanks predict their call volume will double in the coming weeks. Both Dearth and Darby are now urging parents to mask up their kids regardless of school policy.

“Even though we think, ‘okay we’re done’ – we’re not done,” said Darby. “Mask up is still very relevant. It does help!”

“I don’t know of any parent that wants to continue homeschool – I know I don’t,” said Dearth. “So, go ahead and get your kids vaccinated so they can stay in school and keep this normal. And they can help protect their younger siblings.”

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