Letters to the Editor • Opinion
The coronavirus might not be the worst of it
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘People are just being dishonest’: Parents are sending coronavirus-infected kids to school, Wisconsin officials warn

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 12- Johns Hopkins Emergency Department nurse Shanika Young, right, and Julie Anderson, RN, left, conduct COVID-19 testing at a temporary community testing site located on the grounds of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in East Baltimore, MD on Wednesday, August 12, 2020. Johns Hopkins Medicine is leading an initiative to provide COVID-19 testing to hard-hit areas of Baltimore. Photo by Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

As authorities in suburban Milwaukee gamed out the complex preparations to allow children back into classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic, they didn’t plan for one scenario: parents deliberately sending infected kids to school.

Yet that’s exactly what’s happened multiple times in Washington and Ozaukee counties, health officials said this week.

“Something that happened and continued to happen … which I never in my wildest dreams imagined it would happen, is people sent their known positive kids to school,” Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department Officer Kirsten Johnson told television station WISN.

As health officials investigate cases in more than two dozens schools in the counties, some are demanding harsh repercussions for any parent caught sending a child to class after they test positive.

Washington Post reporter Chelsea Janes details the possible role that children play in spreading coronavirus and how this impacts school reopenings. (Video: The Washington Post)

“When you have parents lying to contact tracers, refusing to get kids tested, that’s just beyond the pale,” said Washington County Board member Don Kriefall, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. “That becomes very problematic for the health department to manage this whole situation. The hammer may have to be dropped.”

Wisconsin, which has recorded more than 1,200 covid-19 deaths, isn’t the only place struggling to cope with parents who purposely evade the safety systems set up to prevent school outbreaks of a virus that has killed at least 201,000 Americans. In Massachusetts last week, a student attended the first day of high school despite a positive test, sending dozens of classmates into quarantine. A similar situation in Oklahoma forced 17 students into quarantine.

A Massachusetts teenager tested positive for the coronavirus. His parents sent him to school anyway.

In Washington and Ozaukee counties, which sit just north of Milwaukee, a patchwork of school districts have adopted a range of back-to-school plans, but many have offered students the option of going to school in person five days a week.

Health officials already know of at least three cases where students have tested positive and showed up to class anyway, Johnson told the Journal Sentinel. One student who tested positive felt so sick after coming to school that they went to the school nurse.

In several other cases, Johnson said, parents have lied to contract tracers about test results and about whom their child had contact with. Other parents have also refused to test children, even when they are obviously ill.

At least 201,000 people have died from coronavirus in the U.S.

“The biggest challenge for us that we’re experiencing right now is people are just being dishonest,” Johnson told the Journal Sentinel. “They don’t want their children to be quarantined from school. They don’t want to have to miss work. In doing that, they’re jeopardizing the ability to have school in person and other people’s health.”

Health officials are urging schools in Washington and Ozaukee counties to use attendance software to keep track of students who test positive for the virus, and to ensure they don’t show up for class when they’re supposed to be at home in quarantine.

The counties also plan to hire more contract tracers and will consider ordering schools to close if cases rise. As of Tuesday, the two counties were investigating cases at 25 schools.

While early evidence suggests schools have not become hot spots for coronavirus transmission so far, health officials said they will have no choice but to take drastic action if sick kids keep coming to school.

“We’re not going to be able to keep our schools open,” Kriefall told WISN. “It’s going to, I mean, just a few parents that are irresponsible are going to affect the entire school district.”