RSD Schools Participate in National COVID-19 Study


Travis Young, senior, spent time during his 14-day quarantine reading and playing video and card games with his family. As a participant in this study, Young is joining a list of other family members who have opted to participate in studies related to COVID-19, such as vaccine trial research.

All RSD schools are participating in a study investigating cases of students and staff who tested positive for COVID-19 or identified as a close contact in an effort to research the impact of mitigation strategies on transmission in K-12 schools.

Participants undergo a specific case interview, take a Washington University saliva test 5-7 days after exposure, log their symptoms daily and are studied for a 14-day period. Contact tracers are interviewed to understand the relationships between the case and contacts.

The project was piloted in select Missouri schools last December, with support from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). 

RSD schools started the study Monday, Jan. 25, along with Springfield and St. Louis schools, partnered with the CDC, Saint Louis University and Washington University.

Participation in the study is voluntary for students, staff and families and their names are confidential. The findings of the pilot study conducted last year are expected to be released in the upcoming weeks after reaching a goal of documenting data from 2,000 COVID-19 contacts. 

Dr. Jason Newland, M.D., M.Ed., professor of Pediatrics, Infectious Diseases at Washington University, said the pilot data could have big implications in the fall and help school districts understand the most appropriate mitigation measures to prevent future transmission. The study will continue to investigate the prevalence and concerns of COVID-19 variants.

“We owe that to the community for the amazing partnership and wonderful collaboration,”

— Dr. Jason Newland

“We have to take into account that there are indirect impacts of these quarantines for those who have been quarantined a couple of times,” Dr. Newland said. “If we truly have low transmission, a rate amongst students less than 1 percent, then it doesn’t seem right to continue to punish students and staff doing the right things.”

Dr. Newland said the results will be recognized by the CDC and the Biden administration and the research could lead to significant policy changes across the U.S. 

“We wanted to be hand-in-hand with the CDC to provide rigor, and experts at the national level can help all school districts and health departments when it comes from such a respected national body,” Dr. Newland said.

This research is essential in protecting school communities, especially as studies to approve the vaccine for children have yet to start, Dr. Newland said. 

The study will add to the current understanding of the risk of transmission in schools because diligently tracking masked exposure cases while considering risks in outside-of-school activities and asymptomatic cases is increasingly difficult. 

The RSD community will be informed about the results from the RSD perspective of the project in a presentation by Dr. Newland before a publication is released.

“We owe that to the community for the amazing partnership and wonderful collaboration,” Dr. Newland said. “It’s been really exciting and fun to get to know the community better and the people being impacted by this.” 

Principal Dr. Steve Hankins said the concern is not directed toward community spread within the school, but rather spread from outside activities, such as within sports teams. He said he hopes the data will allow administration to reduce quarantines on students.

“It would be nice to have the data because it would let our public know it is safe to be in school,”

— Dr. Steve Hankins

“If the data shows overwhelmingly kids getting quarantined aren’t getting sick, they have the same risk factor of a kid who didn’t get quarantined as far as their behavior outside of school,” Dr. Hankins said. “But if they are, we cannot look at reducing quarantine.”

Dr. Hankins said various factors, such as the eased or tightened restrictions on the county level, will play a role in changes to school mitigation efforts in upcoming months. However, he said he would hesitate to lessen prevention tactics until the vaccine is more widely distributed. 

Dr. Hankins said it is unfortunate that since MHS implemented a seven-class schedule, the number of quarantined students increased because there are more opportunities for exposure during the week. He said he understands the frustration from parents, but he emphasizes students can still contract the virus while trying to follow COVID-19 guidelines. 

“It would be nice to have the data because it would let our public know it is safe to be in school,” Dr. Hankins said. “I have talked to a lot of students who are scared to come back because they don’t want to get quarantined, and that’s a real fear.”

Travis Young, senior, is 1 of the new 115 MHS students who were quarantined on campus between Monday, Jan. 25, and Sunday, Jan. 31, according to RSD Health Indicators. He was quarantined four days prior due to familial exposure concerns. 

“Even if I am doing everything right, it sometimes doesn’t feel like I have full control over my safety, which can be a little concerning,” Young said.

Young said he prefers being in person, and although it is frustrating to stay at home, he understands the circumstances could have been worse if someone he knew was infected.

Young said he will feel safe returning to school after his 14-day quarantine because confidentiality made it difficult for him to remember a scenario where he could have been exposed to the virus.

“I like the idea of the study allowing people to come back earlier than now, only if they test negative,” Young said. “Everyone who is exposed should be tested before returning to school even if they don’t show symptoms. There shouldn’t be a scenario in which they take away the quarantine period.”

Travis said helping improve the general understanding of how the coronavirus works was enough for him, but he was also influenced by the Washington University test being offered for free.

“I hope that anyone who is given the opportunity to help with the study would as I don’t see any particular reason not,” Young said. “I hope that people follow what science tells us, take the proper safety precautions and do everything to keep everyone safe.”

Stephanie Rohlfs-Young, Travis’ mother, said the process has been smooth and RSD and MHS have done a tremendous job of returning students to the classroom and keeping parents up-to-date even though they cannot regulate individuals’ activity outside of school.

Rohlfs-Young said positive research outcomes would redefine “close contacts” and potentially shorten quarantine. 

She is proud of Travis for contributing to the study.

“We are a family that really believes in research, and we were encouraged by those who participated in COVID-19 studies,” Rohlf-Young said. “Anything we can do to advance the study of this through science is of huge importance to us.”