Approximately 50 community members attended a special meeting of the Grundy County Health Department Board of Trustees on September 30, 2021. The meeting addressed isolation and quarantine at schools and more than a dozen individuals spoke.
Before comments were made by the public, Board President NiCole Neal began the meeting by saying the health department staff had basically worked seven days a week since the pandemic began.
Health Department Administrator Elizabeth Gibson said it was the first time the health department had interacted with the public in this way. She explained that the health department investigates communicable diseases, but they are usually not on a wide scale. State statutes determine the health department’s role with isolation and quarantine.
Gibson talked about some of the Rules of the Department of Health and Senior Services regarding communicable diseases in the state. She also went over a chart from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on When to Quarantine After Exposure to a Case of COVID-19.
Gibson said the health department works with schools to determine close contacts, and the health department places someone in isolation or quarantine. It was noted a close contact is someone closer than six feet for 15 minutes of someone who is positive. She added that the health department meets with Trenton R-9 weekly and provides support to other schools in the county.
The majority of the community members who spoke shared experiences with their children, grandchildren, or students being in quarantine. Multiple speakers believed children were put in quarantine when they did not need to be because they were never sick. Several said it affected children negatively by keeping them out of school, and they believe it is best for children to be kept in school.
Pleasant View R-6 Superintendent Rebecca Steinhoff reported multiple students have meltdowns when they are told they are being sent home. Once last year, she said students were quarantined by mistake.
Charlotte Hamilton presented information that she found online that showed a total of 150 Trenton R-9 students five to 19 years old had tested positive for COVID-19. She noted there can sometimes be false positives, and some people with the virus do not show symptoms.
Board Member Korynn Skipper said she would like to know how many students who were quarantined at Trenton R-9 became sick.
Jeff Spencer reported his children had been quarantined 11 times, and they never had symptoms. He said he and his wife were lucky they could deal with that, but not everyone can. He noted that a lot of Grundy County households are below the poverty line, and children in those families miss out on two meals a day and other things. Spencer believes the school is safer for those children than being at home.
Several community members said their children had problems keeping up in class when doing work at home, and their children’s grades suffered.
Norman Ropp said children learn by facial recognition, and he is the same way. He explained that someone talked to him recently who was wearing a mask and a hat, and he did not recognize the person. He believes it is better for students to interact in class.
Nathan Rorebeck asked if schools and the health department were taking into account those who already had COVID-19 and had natural immunity. He thinks what is happening now could change a child’s outlook and trajectory for his or her life.
Some individuals said they believed the way COVID-19 was being handled was against their rights.
Amy May commented she is a parent and understood parents wanting to keep their children in school. However, she said children exposed to the virus could bring it back to family members who could be more affected by it, and it hurts when a family member dies.
Gibson answered a few questions posed by Board Member Phillip Ray. She said schools use seating charts to determine close contacts, and the health department relies on schools for that information. She did not know if the districts were required to do contact tracing.
Ray said he believes that if districts are going to be required to contact trace, they should be provided funding.
Ray is the Grundy County Presiding Commissioner. He mentioned that the Grundy County Commission gave CARES Act funding to schools last year, so they could each have a nurse. Steinhoff commented that Trenton R-9 is the only district in the county that has a nurse full-time.
Ray asked if there was a precedence set for the state’s list of communicable diseases for asymptomatic people to be quarantined. Gibson said yes, and some diseases were listed.
Ray said he understood the concern of quarantining asymptomatic children, and he wants the board to find a way to keep children in schools. He thinks the health department board and school boards need to find a solution. He acknowledged that things are changing often.
Neal said she also wanted to look at options.
Ray stated he believes districts should do what they think is best, and the health department board should assist them with those decisions. He thinks the health department should make recommendations if the schools ask for an opinion. The health department should also educate and advocate for public health.
The next public meeting of the Grundy County Health Department Board of Trustees is to be announced and posted after it is scheduled.