Health & Science

New Dashboards Track Covid-19 In Schools

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Parents understandably want to know where school outbreaks are happening, but without a national database, that means relying on your child’s school or surrounding school districts to share whatever information they have. Now there’s not one, but two, new sources of information regarding which schools are experiencing a rise in infections as they reopen and what efforts, if any, are making a difference.

COVID-19 School Response Dashboard: Tracking infection rates and trends

Created by Brown University economist Emily Oster, the COVID-19 School Response Dashboard asks K-12 schools to voluntarily and anonymously report coronavirus cases. Rather than just highlighting raw case numbers, however, this dashboard also tracks the total number of kids attending. That allows the system to calculate infection rates, or the total number of cases as a percentage of in-person attendance for both students and staff. 

It also broadens the context of those infections—the dashboard includes details about mask-wearing, social-distancing, and other prevention policies. As the number of schools reporting increases, parents, educators and scientists should be able to compare infection rates in different types of school environments, which could help pinpoint which of these safety efforts result in lower COVID-19 transmission. NPR has already surfaced some interesting findings from the early data, including infection rates at dangerous levels for both students and staff, and the fact that private and charter schools are implementing far more safety measures than public schools.

Right now only a small fraction of the country’s K-12 schools are represented in the dashboard, but with the help of several education organizations, including the School Superintendents Association, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals and groups representing charter and independent schools, the number of schools participating is expected to grow. 

Given the lack of robust testing, tracing or data-collection in general in schools, some pediatricians applaud the effort, though it will take robust school participation to provide a comprehensive view of what’s working and what’s not. 

School and Campus COVID-19 Reporting: Tracking school-level data

A Kansas schoolteacher who describes herself as a “spreadsheet nerd,” Alisha Morris started a second database using news stories she came across about infections in schools. She broke down the data by state and school, highlighting not just confirmed cases but also suspected cases, school closings and deaths, with a link to the news source. After posting it on social media, the database went viral and she soon had up to 50 volunteers helping her update it.

The week she was due to go back to her teaching job, the National Education Association offered to host the project on its Educating Through Crisis web site, NEA’s portal of COVID-19 related resources for educators. While Morris’ data is slowly being migrated over, the NEA launched the School and Campus COVID-19 Reporting Site, an outlet for educators to continue reporting COVID-19 cases in their schools, all of which are verified and added to state-by-state downloadable documents by a dedicated NEA team. 

For parents who want to check what’s happening not only in their child’s school but perhaps at schools where their child may be participating in sports or other activities, it can provide information that’s otherwise difficult to find. Educators are also able to confidentially report any health and safety concerns they may have as schools reopen, providing parents insight as to what’s working and what’s not to prevent the spread of the virus. NEA staff reviews each report for accuracy prior to publishing and dangerous conditions are flagged and reported to state or local authorities as necessary.

Due to a lack of testing and the fact that not all school districts are reporting yet, both resources come with warnings that the number of cases is likely to be higher than what is published in the databases. Both sites are constantly being updated, though since both rely on self-reporting, they’re far from a complete picture—but a step in the right direction nonetheless. For parents scrambling for information to help them determine what’s best for their child and their family, they provide two more sources to tap when trying to make informed decisions.

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.