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News / Clark County News

Clark County schools follow public health guidelines to alert families to COVID-19 cases

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter
Published: October 2, 2020, 6:03am

In practice, area school districts are alerting families to coronavirus cases on their campuses. By policy, there’s no requirement they do so.

While school districts and counties across the country have created school-specific COVID-19 dashboards — websites detailing the number of cases in each school building — no such resource exists yet locally. That means families hoping to find out when a student or staff member becomes ill on their child’s campus must either rely on district officials to make a notification, or read about it in local media.

Small groups of students are back on some campuses, including kindergartners, students with disabilities and other vulnerable students. With COVID-19 transmission rates hitting 86.18 new cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period, more students aren’t expected to return to classrooms until at least late October or early November.

Clark County Public Health reports 18 COVID-19 cases have been connected to public and private school campuses, and one case at Clark College, according to data provided by the agency on Wednesday. Only one of those patients, a staff member at Prairie High School who tested positive on Sept. 21, is believed to have contracted the virus on campus.

Local school officials say they’re following public health guidance in alerting families, which vary depending on individual circumstances.

Under Clark County Public Health guidelines, all people who have been close to a confirmed patient should be contacted. That means contacting everyone who spent 15 minutes or more within 6 feet of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or people who have been exposed in other ways, such as being sneezed or coughed on.

Whether the school makes a broader announcement – say, contacting all staff and families about a case confined to one classroom – is up to district officials. There are no mandates.

“There is no requirement for broad buildingwide notification,” said Marissa Armstrong, spokeswoman for Clark County Public Health. “My understanding, however, is that school districts intend to do those broader notifications when classes resume on campus.”

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School districts in other parts of the country have created coronavirus dashboards, detailing how many students or staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

Jeffco Public Schools, Colorado’s second-largest school district, is reporting individual cases by building and grade level in an interactive graphic on its website. That district reopened for hybrid instruction in early September. Other districts, like the Madison School District in Phoenix, Ariz., are posting simple spreadsheets detailing current and recovered cases on their campuses.

In Washington, the state has not added school or district level data to its coronavirus reporting, but reports outbreaks of two or more cases by industry in its regular outbreak reports. The latest report, published Sept. 24, detailed 13 outbreaks in K-12 schools, three in the week of Sept. 13-19.

“In Washington, both education and local health decisions are made at the local level first,” said Ginny Streeter, a spokeswoman with the Washington Department of Health. “With regards to developing a dashboard … that would also be a decision made at the local level.”

Armstrong said Clark County Public Health is exploring ways to report more detailed data out of local school districts.

Bill Beville, president of the Evergreen Education Association, said he supports the idea of local school districts creating coronavirus data pages.

“Transparency is always good,” he said.

However, he said he doesn’t want teachers and families to become complacent if a case isn’t reported.

“I need my members and the staff and the (administration) to treat every day like there’s an active case in their building,” Beville said.

Columbian Education Reporter