The Path to Patient Zero

Dr. Andy Downs selected to head contact tracing in our building


Leanna Welch-Herring

Face masks hang from lockers in the hallways. Masks are the primary way to stop the spread of COVID-19, but when there are positives, it’s the job of building COVID Coordinator Andy Downs to trace possible contacts.

In the second week of students returning to FHC, a positive COVID-19 case was confirmed. As the COVID-19 Coordinator at Central, Dr. Andrew Downs is the main implementer of the protocol surrounding a case such as this, having been trained through an online program at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Downs helps to explain the process of COVID-19 coordination.

What is contact tracing?

“Contact tracing is a process that has been used for decades by state and local health departments to slow or stop the spread of infectious diseases. Through this process, one traces with whom the positive case has come in contact.”

Who is involved with contact tracing at FHC?

“I work with Dr. [Kenneth] Roumpos, the Deputy Superintendent, who is the liaison between the school district and the St. Charles County Health Department.”

What is your role in contact tracing at FHC? How were you chosen for this role?

“I am the COVID-19 Coordinator at FHC. I receive questions and information regarding COVID-19 and help people in our school community to get the correct information from the health department. I also would work to help trace who a positive case had come in contact with at school. Every building in FHSD has a COVID-19 Coordinator. Dr. Arnel chose me to be it at FHC.”

How long have you been the assigned contact tracer for FHC? 

“I have been the COVID-19 Coordinator for three weeks.”

Did contact tracing exist at FHC before COVID-19? If yes, has the process changed to accommodate for the COVID-19 virus?

“No, it did not exist.”

Is contract tracing a time-sensitive process? If yes, how?

“Yes, if there were to be a report of a positive case, it would be important to quickly trace who someone had been in contact with so that those who were in contact with the positive case could quarantine. This slows the spread of COVID-19.”

What was your initial reaction upon finding out a student tested positively? 

“My initial reaction was that I hoped the student was okay.”

How did you proceed in sending home the students who were in close contact with the afflicted student?

“We [followed] the protocols set forth by the district, which came from the Health Department, and we identified those who would need to be quarantined.  We notified them and their families.”

What role do classroom seating charts play in contact tracing?

“Classroom seating charts are used to determine with whom a positive case was in close contact.”

In the event of a positive COVID-19 case, what is the protocol you follow (as much as you are able to share, please)? 

“I would work to identify who the positive case was with whom in close contact and I would communicate with those people who need to quarantine. “

How were you feeling throughout the process? What was going through your head?

“I was focused. I just wanted to make sure that we are following the process.”

Now that you have experience with the COVID-19 Coordination process, what would you say is the most challenging part of it?

“There are really two things that stand out. First, there is a lot of communication that has to happen very quickly, but I am lucky to have a great staff to help me in making sure that everyone is communicated with that needs to be. Also, I think it is a very challenging thing  having to tell people that they have to quarantine and that they cannot come to school. It is the absolute best thing to do, and it is necessary for the overall health of everyone, so this is absolutely what we will do every time the situation presents itself. However, it is hard to tell people that they cannot come to school because we love that they are here.”