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What should your district do when someone has tested positive for COVID-19?

By: Jason Jantzi, Risk Management Consultant – Fire | 503-559-0389 or 800-285-5461

What should your district do when a staff member or volunteer has tested positive for COVID-19 or been snared in the net of close contacts of a person that has tested positive? A few of our districts have had to deal with this scenario resulting in many questions from both staff and managers. If your district has not yet experienced this, I encourage you to be proactive and plan for this eventuality by considering the broader areas of workplace health and safety, communications, and paperwork.

When you receive a positive test notification from your staff member, volunteer or member of the public, the first group to contact is your county public health officials. They will have the most current county information including testing protocols, contact tracing requirements and more.  It is likely they will ask to have any staff who have had close contact with this identified positive individual tested for the virus and should be able to walk you through the process of getting that accomplished. Many times, this can be done through the individual’s primary physician or clinic.

The next consideration is how you inform your employees that there is a potential exposure.  You have several options available to you:

  • Provide your own communication; although, we would recommend that you seek advice from an HR professional or legal counsel if you choose this path.
  • HR Answers has a template available for use for members who have their general liability insurance through SDIS.
  • SDAO has a provided a simple template that can be adjusted to meet your needs.  We again recommend that your district reviews your final draft with an HR professional or legal counsel.

After you have informed your employees of the potential exposure, complete a thorough cleaning and disinfection to be on the safe side. The safety of your staff and community is paramount.  You can find information about cleaning processes on the SDAO COVID-19 page.  There is no need for any type of specialized cleaning except in very specific circumstances, and once again, that relationship with the county public health officials will help you answer how to accomplish this.

The other thing you will want to consider is how to answer any staff and community concerns. Have a communication plan ready that includes who is authorized to talk to the community about the situation.  It is important to remember that any information specific to tested individuals could be considered private health information and is deemed confidential.  Your communication with staff and volunteers should direct them to, under no circumstances, attempt to discover who tested positive, and district managers or board members should not reveal the information or even hint at it. A disclosure like that would place the district at risk and could be considered discrimination under certain circumstances.  What is most important for the district to communicate is that you are doing everything you can to provide safe and healthy experiences by working with your partners at the county public health office.

If you collect any health information from staff, volunteers, or community members, be certain to implement a separate individual health/medical information file that you maintain and secure outside of an individual’s personnel file. It is imperative, in all circumstances, that medical information is kept separate and secured. These medical files may contain documents like doctor’s notes or job releases.  Any medical information that you collect must be protected to avoid identity theft concerns. Collect only is what is necessary and maintain what is collected in a secured location with minimal access allowed.  If you are saving all your documents electronically, ensure you have proper security features in place to protect this confidential information.

Our hope is that you will take this opportunity, prior to a notification, to create a plan.  Consider how you will communicate to your staff and the community.  If you need assistance with this communication, contact your HR professional, legal team, or  There are also many resources on the SDAO COVID-19 webpage that will provide you guidance.  This page is updated as new information becomes available.