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Contact tracing optional in Arkansas schools; health department suspends practice

"It's really scary that people are just sending kids to school knowing that they've been exposed," one parent said.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — At his press briefing Tuesday, the governor shared that active cases are starting to trend downward, but the sheer number of people who have been or currently are sick with COVID-19 has put a real stress on attempts at contact tracing.

"At a state level because of the number of cases as a result of omicron, we're not able to do contact tracing," Governor Asa Hutchinson said.

On January 18, the Arkansas Department of Health stopped notifying close contacts of COVID-19 cases. And Tuesday, the governor clarified that schools have the option to follow suit.

"That is left to district decisions. I think we'll see that many of the districts will stop doing the contact tracing and the quarantines," Hutchinson added.

The news striking a chord with parents as school districts clarified their own policies throughout the day.

Some moms like Leslie Tate are concerned about a possible future of no contact tracing saying, "It's really scary that people are just sending kids to school knowing that they've been exposed," but also understanding the frustrations with feasibility adding, "it's just too out of hand, there would be no way," she said.

Another mom sharing with THV11 on social media that no matter the official school policy, her reality of contact tracing is, "When your kid's friend's mom texts you that they tested positive."

State leaders now weighing the risk of no contact tracing and keeping kids in the classroom.

"For many of the school districts, they really are sending home students that probably don't need to be quarantined," Secretary of Education Johnny Key said.

Even if school districts stop following cases, the State Health Department is still keeping tabs on virus spread for kids and teens. So while they are not calling anyone considered high-risk for COVID-19 exposure, they are still investigating positive cases in anyone 18 and under.

In other words, ADH is still talking to those who tested positive for COVID, but not their contacts.

ADH shared a statement with THV11 clarifying this saying, "...it became too difficult to do contact tracing in a timely fashion on all cases due to the extreme number of people being diagnosed. In order to assist schools and daycares with these efforts, ADH continued case investigation through our vendors for ages 0-18 years to ensure that schools and daycares know about all the cases of COVID-19 that might be attending those facilities..."

All while state leaders continue to urge vaccination, above other mitigation methods like contact tracing.

"So the parents, you know, we would encourage them if your students aren't vaccinated, it's a good time to, it's always good time to consider that," Key added.

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