April 21, 2021
Through this special COVID-19 edition of our newsletter, along with tomorrow evening's Facebook Live session, we hope to offer you useful and timely information that will help keep our school communities safe. Here you'll find: 
 
  • Daily health screener updates
  • School Board mask policy 7551
  • Yellow school bus and Madison Metro guidelines, seat assignment info and other transportation updates
  • How schools will notify you of any positive COVID-19 cases
  • How school closure decisions are made 
  • Our public COVID-19 case count dashboard
  • A look back at how we have made reopening decisions and the metrics we are tracking now
  • An update on the new variants
  • Public Health's Emergency Order #15
  • Vaccine information for those 16 and older* 
  • Information on vaccines for undocumented individuals
  • A joint statement on vaccines released by MMSD's health advisors
  • Our YouTube vaccination video series 
 
*We learned today that Public Health Madison & Dane County has over 2,000 Pfizer vaccine appointments available this week for anyone 16 or older. This link to make an appointment will work through April 24: http://bit.ly/0418appts 
Now that most of our students and staff are back in school, it is more important than ever to keep implementing practices which stop the spread of the virus, including mask-wearing, hand hygiene, and distancing. Learn more at mmsd.org/reopen.
Daily health screener updates
We appreciate everyone paying attention to the daily health screener. Thank you for taking it very seriously.

This week we experienced a technical error with the student screener, which resulted in families not receiving the daily email. We apologize. We are working to resolve this as quickly as possible. You should continue to monitor your child's health and keep them home and notify your school nurse if they have experienced any symptoms of illness in the last 48 hours, if they have been exposed to COVID-19, or if they test positive for COVID-19.

We have another important clarification on the screener: Every morning you and your student need to review the three screener questions regarding their health. If the answer to all three questions is No, then you are finished. Please do not click the link or submit the screener. 

Click the link and submit the screener only if you answer yes to any of the 3 questions:
  1. In the last 48 hours, has your child experienced symptoms of COVID-19?
  2. Has your child tested positive for COVID-19?
  3. Is your child currently a Close Contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19?

Why? Every morning our nursing team receives nearly a thousand submitted health screeners from staff and families who should NOT be submitting the screener for their student. Because our nurses and contact tracers have to personally follow up with everyone who submits the screener, this delays the help and guidance our nurses and contact tracing staff are able to provide to students and staff who really need help. 

We understand the instructions may be confusing and are trying to make this as clear as possible in this update for families below (staff, please find staff-specific screener clarifications here.)

One last note: For families with multiple students, if you complete and submit the screener, please make sure you are using the link in the email specific to that student. Their name should be at the top of the email. 

Questions? You can call your school nurse (mmsd.org/nurse).

Thank you for helping to ensure the health and safety of all staff, students, and the community and for your patience as we work through the most recent technical issue.
School Board policy mandates mask-wearing in all MMSD spaces 
Per school board policy 7551, all staff must wear masks inside at all times, even in private offices. This includes all MMSD buildings, including Central Office buildings.

How schools will notify you of any positive COVID-19 cases or closures 
As we welcome students back to in-person school, we want to let you know how you will be notified if there is ever a positive COVID-19 case in your child's school. 

How will I be notified if my child is exposed to COVID-19?
If your child is exposed to anyone at school or on a school bus with COVID-19, they may be considered a Close Contact, depending on their proximity and duration of exposure. In this case, our Health Office will notify you by phone and will work with you to arrange for your child to go home to quarantine. They will also provide you with a letter with instructions for quarantining and other information about getting tested and when they can return to school. You can preview the "close contact letter" here

How can I stay updated on any positive cases in the building?
The district has published a case count dashboard which is updated every Wednesday. You can check it at any time to see the cumulative number of individuals who have tested positive and who have been close contacts in any MMSD buildings: mmsd.org/casecount. This dashboard began recording cases starting September 8, 2020. It is our desire to be transparent while protecting individual student and staff privacy. For this reason, we suppress numbers of six or fewer.

How are decisions made about school closures?
Now that we have phased in the majority of our students, we know many of you are wondering how we may make decisions about whether to temporarily close a school if conditions change. 

There are a number of factors informing the decisions our Health Team makes, including the number of student and staff close contacts in a school, other student and staff absences, cohort cross over, safety practices, Public Health data and other community concerns. This protocol is summarized in this flowchart.
The Public Health data we track comes directly from their Weekly Data Snapshot:
  • Two-week average daily case count and trend 
  • Two-week average daily percent positivity 
  • Percent with at least once vaccine dose 
  • Percent fully vaccinated 
View our public dashboard of positive COVID-19 cases and close contacts
It is our aim to be as transparent as possible. We feel it is important for our community to be aware of the impact the spread of COVID-19 in Madison has on our schools. Our schools have strong mitigation strategies in place, and they have been extremely successful in acting quickly to prevent spread. At mmsd.org/casecount we publish the number of positive COVID-19 cases that have been reported in our buildings over the last 14 days. (For total counts over time, beginning September 8, 2020, please see the last line of the chart.) We update this weekly on Wednesdays.
A look back at the data we relied on when making reopening decisions, from August of 2020 to March 2021
Since Wisconsin schools closed in March of 2020, we have measured our readiness to safely reopen schools using a number of factors taken together. Some have changed over time as experts have learned more about COVID-19 and its spread. We wanted to take a moment to point out where we have been and identify which metrics we are currently monitoring.  

Early on, some of the thresholds we tracked included the following: 

For a review of other readiness measures we have used over time, you can view this archived slideshow

Here you can find a more detailed timeline of these decision-making points. A more narrative explanation is on our website

As a reminder, we have always relied on a wider body of evidence and information, in consultation with our health advisory panel, to make decisions.

Where are we now
In mid-March 2021, with support from our health advisors, we made the decision to track four COVID community indicators, taken directly from PHMDC's Weekly Data Snapshot. They include:
  • Two-week average daily case count and trend (previously reported)
  • Two-week average daily percent positivity (previously reported)
  • Percent with at least once vaccine dose (newly reported)
  • Percent fully vaccinated (newly reported)
 
Also in March, we joined the ABC Science Collaborative, which pairs scientists and physicians with school and community leaders to help understand the most current and relevant information about COVID-19. The program helps us make informed decisions about returning to school using data from our own communities. 
COVID-19 cases increasing locally 
Every Thursday, Public Health Madison & Dane County publishes a weekly summary of the status of the metrics they track. They are reporting that there was a significant increase in cases from the period of March 29 through April 11.

They also report that, over the past four weeks, cases have significantly increased among children ages 8-17 and among adults ages 18-59.

Public Health wants you to know:

"It’s important for anyone – including children – who have symptoms or had an exposure to get tested. The community test site at Alliant Energy Center can now test children as young as 12 months old.

While vaccines will get us back to normal, right now, children do not have this opportunity. By continuing to follow prevention practices that keep us well, we can help protect the kids in our community. Continue wearing masks – in social settings, at school, at sports. 

If you are at a gathering and the adults are vaccinated, but the children are not, the kids can still spread the virus to each other – maintain distance and gather outside. Adults in children’s lives such as parents, grandparents, coaches, and teachers should get vaccinated as soon as they can in order to protect themselves, and the children who aren’t yet able to be vaccinated." 

New variants on the rise locally  
Dane County is seeing an increase in the more contagious variants. These include B117, P1, B1427, B1429, and B1351. In Wisconsin, new cases have been highest in those under 18 years old. 

"In the past two weeks, 21% of new cases in the county have been in people under 18, compared to an average throughout the pandemic of 13%, said Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison and Dane County. The county is seeing a higher number of cases, not just of the overall percentage, among youth ages 12 to 17, she said.

'It is not going in the right direction,' Heinrich said. 'This change (in a higher percentage of cases among youth) is not just the result of having more of our older population vaccinated.' She encouraged people to keep wearing face masks when in public, including at school and sports activities.'"


Want to learn more about the variants?
At outbreak.info you can explore what the different variants are, what impact different mutations might have, and what variants may be circulating in different regions. Here is a direct link for the Dane County report.
Public Health's Emergency Order #15 
On April 7, Public Health Madison & Dane County released Emergency Order #15. The order increases gathering limits outdoors, describes what fully vaccinated individuals are permitted to do and more. If you haven't seen it yet, you can find details on their website
Another chance to get your questions answered:
Join us April 22nd at 6pm on the MMSD Facebook page for a Community Conversation with Dr. Jenkins, MMSD Superintendent. This series focuses on various topics, including reopening MMSD buildings, and features school board members, central office leaders, health experts and district staff.
Vaccination information for those age 16 and older 
As of Monday, April 5, everyone in Wisconsin age 16 and older is now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. With increased vaccine supply and an accelerated vaccination pace in recent weeks, the state is able to accelerate the eligibility timeline.

We strongly recommend all qualifying individuals get vaccinated as soon as possible. 

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) is now using a vaccine registry, where all qualifying individuals can sign up to get notified of opportunities to be vaccinated. The registry is available in English and Spanish:
 
 
After signing up for the registry, individuals will be notified when they are able to schedule an appointment.

Making an appointment between 4/20 - 4/24?
Public Health Madison & Dane County has over 2,000 Pfizer vaccine appointments available this week. This vaccine is available to anyone 16 and older.

Making a vaccine appointment has never been easier!
Visit http://bit.ly/0418appts to book an appointment now. This link is only good for 4/20-4/24.

Check out this website to learn more about getting vaccinated at Alliant Energy Center.
I am undocumented. Can I get the vaccine?
Yes, even if you cannot provide proof of residency or state identification. No one who lives, works, or studies in Wisconsin will be turned away from a vaccination site.

President Biden has stated that all people in the U.S. – regardless of their immigration status – will be able to get vaccinated at no cost. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also supports this and is committed to ensuring that every individual who needs a vaccine can get one regardless of their immigration status.

Read more vaccine FAQs on Wisconsin's Department of Health Service's website
MMSD's Health Advisors release joint statement on vaccines, including Johnson & Johnson 
"The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that vaccination sites pause use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine while they review data on its safety. The FDA monitors the safety of vaccines even after they are authorized for use, and this pause is part of that safety monitoring process. 

We know six people in the United States have developed a serious blood clotting problem after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Over six million doses of this vaccine have already been given to Americans, so it appears that this disorder may be literally a one-in-a-million occurrence. FDA will now review the data to try to determine whether vaccination may have contributed to this clotting problem. Because the clotting issue is so rare, it may be difficult for FDA to say conclusively whether vaccination played a role. 

As MMSD's medical advisors, we will be watching carefully as more information about this becomes available. Right now we continue to believe that this and all COVID vaccines are very safe, and there is substantial data showing that these vaccines are all extremely effective at preventing severe disease and death from COVID-19. We encourage everyone to be vaccinated when they have the opportunity."

Signed,

Thomas Friedrich
Professor
Dept. Pathobiological Sciences
University of Wisconsin
School of Veterinary Medicine

Sheryl L. Henderson, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health

Gregory P. DeMuri M.D. F.A.A.P.
Professor
Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases
Department of Pediatrics
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health

Ellen R. Wald, MD
Professor and Chair
Department of Pediatrics
Alfred Dorrance Daniels Professor on Diseases of Children
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
YouTube Vaccination Video Series
If you haven't seen it yet, we encourage you to check out our YouTube series featuring Epidemiologist Dr. Malia Jones and pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Sheryl Henderson answering questions about COVID-19 vaccines. The first in the series is below:
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