Dist 117 Questions Use of “Outbreak” After Two Cases Confirmed at JHS

By Jeremy Coumbes on September 29, 2021 at 4:07pm

The use of the term Outbreak is being questioned after a JHS student contracted COVID-19 at the school.

Superintendent Steve Ptacek updated the community on the COVID status of District 117 schools and says the first positive test due to exposure in a district building has been confirmed.

Ptacek says last year there was one questionable transfer to a student at a school, but in that case there was also a likely chance the student became infected outside of school. He says since the district couldn’t be certain, it was listed as a transfer in District COVID tracking.

Ptacek says in the recent case, it is without question that the exposure happened between two students at Jacksonville High School. He says though that just these two incidents, show that District 117 schools are safe.

We did have a confirmed positive transfer at Jacksonville High School. The students have been gone for almost a week, but the contact tracing figured out that is where it was from. So the school is safe, but that is one confirmed and one possible from last year from the entire time since last year began. Those numbers are absolutely arguing that our protocols in place are safe.”

Ptacek says in this afternoon’s announcement that the guidelines for declaring a school an “Outbreak” have changed since last year.

The original standard was for 5 connected positive events, then later that was lowered to 3 last year. The current standard is now just 2 positive cases that share exposure, which is defined as being in the same classroom, sitting near each other at lunch, etc.

Ptacek says that he recently argued that the “Outbreak” classification requires three positive cases, following a legal session on the guidelines. He says though, the Illinois Department of Public Health ruled in agreement with the Morgan County Health Department so JHS will be listed have had had an outbreak of the virus.

Ptacek says in the communication that he does not want to “editorialize” his thoughts on the application of the new standard, however, he believes the practice of labeling every school with one COVID transfer event as an “Outbreak” completely lessens the impact of the term.

Ptacek points to data collected over the last 18 months totaling the number of individual days in-person students were in attendance in District 117 schools, which means the district has had nearly 500,000 individual student attendance days in that time with just one confirmed and one questionable case transfer in the entire district.

He also noted a total of three single events in staff over 625,000 possible contact days and says the total of both shows that District 117 schools are safe.