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COVID-19 Case Reporting By Schools
January 14, 2021
Following school closures that occurred in spring 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the California Department of Public Health ("CDPH") developed the "COVID-19 and Reopening In-Person Learning Framework for K-12 Schools in California, 2020-2021 School Year" (July 17, 2020) to support school communities as they decided when and how to implement in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year. Public and private K-12 schools throughout the state are currently in various stages of instruction including distance learning, in-person learning, and hybrid instruction based on local conditions.
New evidence and data about COVID-19 transmission coupled with the experiences of schools both nationally and internationally demonstrates that schools, particularly elementary schools, can operate in-person instruction safely with the correct safety protocols in place. Concurrently with this directive, CDPH issued updated, consolidated guidance for K-12 schools (including public, private, and charter) to support school re-openings and safe implementation of in-person instruction for students and staff.
Under current guidance, schools that have already reopened are permitted to continue offering in-person instruction, and additional schools are expected to reopen under the forthcoming K-12 school guidance. To be equipped to prevent and mitigate ongoing community COVID-19 transmission, a comprehensive and coordinated approach for the secure sharing of vital data and information regarding COVID-19 infections among school employees and students is necessary, especially in light of current epidemiological conditions.
The sharing of identified case information data with public health professionals is therefore necessary to ensure that state and local public health experts can respond to confirmed cases of COVID-19 who have been present at a school site, to track and understand the extent of disease transmission within the state, and to support communities with appropriate prevention strategies and support. Accordingly, to monitor and prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is necessary for CDPH and local health jurisdictions to have accurate information about COVID-19 infections among school employees and students. Specifically, the prompt, secure, and confidential sharing of information about individuals within the school community who have tested positive for COVID-19 is critical to ensure that public health authorities can rapidly respond by:
- Instituting necessary case investigation and contact tracing;
- Focusing public health resources to effectively provide comprehensive support to the affected schools related to further investigation, mitigation strategies, and operational plans;
- Assessing and monitoring the practices and activities that may have led to the infection or transmission of COVID-19;
- Taking appropriate measures to protect the health of both the school community and population-at-large; and
- Ensuring that CDPH and local health jurisdictions have the information necessary to accurately assess the impact of school reopening on COVID-19 transmission and case rates to effectively update operative public health guidance and directives as necessary.
Schools are authorized under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to disclose personally identifiable information without parental consent to local health departments regarding COVID-19 testing and cases. (20 USC § 1232g(b)(1)(I).) In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, California has been under a State of Emergency since March 4, 2020. California continues to see the dire effects of this pandemic through limited ICU capacities and new cases and deaths each day. The COVID-19 pandemic poses an extreme threat to the health and safety of all Californians. Even with protocols in place to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19, the presence of an individual who has tested positive of COVID-19 on a K-12 public or private school campus is an emergency that poses a risk to health or safety of students and employees present on the campus. Reporting to the local health officer the presence of a positive case of COVID-19 in an individual who is or has been present on a K-12 public or private school campus is necessary to protect the health and safety of students and employees present on the campus. California law (17 C.C.R. section 2508) also requires anyone in charge of a K-12 public or private school kindergarten to report at once to the local health officer the presence or suspected presence of any of the communicable disease, which includes COVID-19.
- Effective immediately, every local educational agency (school district, county office of education, and charter school) and private school in California shall notify its local health officer of any known case of COVID-19 among any student or employee who was present on a K-12 public or private school campus within the 10 days preceding a positive test for COVID-19. Specifically, the local educational agency or private school shall report the following information:
- The full name, address, telephone number, and date of birth of the individual who tested positive;
- The date the individual tested positive, the school(s) at which the individual was present on-site within the 10 days preceding the positive test, and the date the individual was last on-site at any relevant school(s); and
- The full name, address, and telephone number of the person making the report.
- This information shall be reported to the local health officer by telephone within twenty-four hours from the time an individual within the local educational agency or private school is first made aware of a new case.
- This reporting shall continue until this directive is modified or rescinded.
Information reported to the local health officer pursuant to this directive shall not be disclosed except to (1) the California Department of Public Health; (2) to the extent deemed necessary by the local health officer for an investigation to determine the source of infection and to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including with health officers in other jurisdictions as necessary to monitor, investigate, prevent, and/or control the spread of COVID-19; (3) if required by state or federal law; or (4) with the written consent of the individual to whom the information pertains or the legal representative of the individual.
This reporting does not replace or supersede any other statutory or regulatory requirements that require reporting of COVID-19 cases and/or outbreaks to other entities or institutions, such as Cal/OSHA.