Health worker apologizes for confusion over school COVID policy

The county health worker apologizes for signing a letter “in a moment of frustration” regarding COVID-19 policies at local schools.

The Johnson County Health Department has clarified its position on health-related decision-making in schools, saying a lack of communication has led to confusion over the decision-making process.

Health worker Dr Jefferson Qualls and Betsy Swearingen, director of the county health department, signed a letter on September 21, when a mask warrant went into effect at schools in Franklin.

“On July 1, 2021, Governor Eric Holcomb gave local school boards the power to decide their COVID directions for the start of the school year,” the letter reads. “It is the role of the Ministry of Health to give reinstatement recommendations, but the final decisions must be determined by the boards of directors.”

The letter unfairly singled out school boards, Qualls said.

Decisions about mask mandates are ultimately up to school boards, but they look to the health department for advice, and it is laudable when school leaders listen to health professionals, he said. -he declares.

“Schools have a long history of trusting local health professionals and local health services, especially when making these decisions,” Qualls said. “These are medical decisions and they should be made by healthcare professionals rather than lay people. I think it was a timing issue and maybe inadequate communication from us on dispute resolution on our guidelines. “

The communication breakdown appears to have occurred after the weekly calls between the health department and district chiefs ended due to the growing needs of Camp Atterbury, where thousands of Afghan refugees are being accommodated temporarily, he said. he declares.

“It overwhelmed us. Schools have been put on the back burner, ”Qualls said. “We shouldn’t have to face two global disasters in the same year.”

Weekly meetings between health officials and schools have since resumed, he said.

Here is Qualls’ full statement:

“Dear residents of Johnson County,

First of all I want to say that it is truly a privilege to be your county health worker. Unfortunately, new leaders are prone to mistakes in their first few months, and I would like to apologize for the recent remarks which have confused many. Two weeks ago, in a moment of frustration, I made the decision to sign a poorly worded letter from the Department of Health. Obviously, I had no idea what repercussions such a letter could have if it went viral on the internet. To be brief, the letter suggests that decisions regarding COVID-19 and schools are the sole decision of the school boards themselves. In reality, these are mainly medical decisions that are the responsibility of health professionals; however, they are formulated locally, with advice from the Indiana Board of Health and the CDC. In my opinion, it is wise for school boards to ‘follow the lead’ of the local health department and I promise to work with them in the future as we make other choices regarding COVID-19 and our schools. . Again, I apologize for any confusion I may have caused recently and look forward to working with everyone in the future. “

– Dr Jefferson Qualls, County Health Officer

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