School districts across Clark County have gotten more transparent about COVID-19 cases in the school system as the coronavirus impacts a third consecutive school year.
How so? In the form of dashboards, a one-stop-shop for anyone to monitor positive cases reported by staff and families of students districtwide.
With the delta variant spreading in high numbers within the community, some schools are already reporting positive cases in the midst of the third week of school for most Southwest Washington districts. That’s why districts say it’s important to have a public health communication tool readily available for the community.
“We aren’t hiding anything from our families and staff, and we want them to know they can find the information in one spot,” Vancouver Public Schools spokeswoman Pat Nuzzo said. The district’s communications team is in charge of updating information weekly.
But information — and choosing to provide that information — varies by districts. Battle Ground, Camas, Hockinson, Vancouver and Washougal have information readily available on their district webpages. Evergreen, the county’s largest district, launched its own dashboard last week.
Districts across Washington are required by law to report all cases of COVID-19 and outbreaks in schools to local public health departments and cooperate with public health authorities during investigations of cases and outbreaks associated with a school.
Last school year, Clark County Public Health posted school outbreaks reported by districts. That’s been discontinued, said Public Health communications specialist Marissa Armstrong, and Public Health is directing folks to each district’s individual dashboards. She added Public Health will continue to work with districts when they have cases and outbreaks.
All districts have COVID-19 health and safety pages, including explainers on COVID signs and symptoms, school or district mitigation strategies and updated health guidance from state or local health officials. It’s not required for districts to create COVID dashboards; however, those that do are curated and updated by district staff. That’s in addition to phone calls and/or notification letters and emails sent out identifying a COVID case in schools and close contacts.
Dashboard display and information can vary. In Camas, it lists total cases between staff and students, staff and students by each school, and total outbreaks. Evergreen’s dashboard that launched last week initially only included postings of notification letters sent out to staff and families of affected schools. It recently added weekly cumulative totals of positive cases by school, but doesn’t specify whether they’re staff or student cases.
Evergreen did not have a dashboard last school year. District spokeswoman Gail Spolar said the district looked at other districts’ dashboards when deciding to create its own, and believes posting notification letters in real-time is the most accurate way to convey what’s happening in schools.
“By posting those, then we’re posting the same information we’re giving to families almost at the very same time,” Spolar said. Evergreen reported 27 COVID cases across 16 schools the week of Sept. 6-12.
Vancouver Public Schools updates its COVID numbers weekly and posts notification letters sent to staff and families to individual school pages. Last week, it reported 13 students and three staff across 12 campuses had positive tests, but zero transmission occurred on school grounds. To date, there’s 33 total cases — all with zero school transmission — since Aug. 4.
Ridgefield does not provide a dashboard, but new this fall are licensed practical nurses at each of its schools. Nurses work with the district’s health and wellness coordinator on COVID-19 communications with families and staff, according to the district. And because the district already directly notifies families and staff of case counts or close contacts, numbers aren’t displayed on district pages, said district spokesman Joe Vajgrt.