LEE COUNTY — The Lee County School System is seeing so many new COVID-19 cases, the Health Department can’t keep up.
Parents are receiving a text message from the Health Department if their child is exposed, telling them to quarantine. But a parent we spoke with said she got that text nine days too late, and the whole time her daughter had continued going to school.
That parent did not want to be identified, but she shared the text with us.
“It was from the Health Department, saying that there was a confirmed COVID case, and that my daughter was not allowed back to school until the 25th, which is only one day of quarantine. She had been attending school that entire time, and we had no idea, so she had been around family and everything," said the parent.
Her daughter goes to Trafalgar Elementary School, and she said the school told her the Health Department is falling behind on reporting. That’s something the School District confirmed in a video streamed to social media Wednesday.
“With the volume of cases and exposures we are receiving, we are behind in processing these reports," said a speaker during the live stream.
"It’s very difficult at this point, because there really are not enough contact tracers," said Dr. Robert Hawkes, the Director of the Physician Assistant Program at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Dr. Hawkes said the virus is simply spreading too fast to track with the staff available. Earlier this week we learned there are only 35 contact tracers at the Department of Health for Lee County, which has more than 750,000 people.
Dr. Hawkes said, when people are notified too late, tracing just doesn’t work.
“Once you’re 8, 9, 10 days out, it probably is not effective, because if that person were to actually have COVID-19, the virus is really running its course at that point," said Dr. Hawkes.
The Health Department said it is hiring more contact tracers, and it expects the reporting to get better. In a statement, the Department said "We have worked with the school district to streamline our processes and going forward parents should be notified more promptly via a letter and/or text message.”
The parent we spoke with said that’s encouraging because, unless positive cases are identified early, the virus will keep getting kids sick.
“Had we been notified in time, we could have tried to do what we could do to help the situation. We don’t want anybody in our family to get sick. We don’t want other students to get sick," said the parent.
We also learned the School District itself is hiring staff to help identify positive cases, and it said it has 13 already in training right now. They also said there will be members of the Health Department embedded at the School District to work with them every day to identify cases faster.
If you would like to apply to be a contact tracer, click here.