September 27, 2020 | website | No Comments
Athletes, parents, and coaches are calling for the NYSPHSAA to allow “higher risk” sports to be played in the fall rather than moved to next Spring.
Rockland/Westchester Journal News
A new online tool that publicly reports COVID-19 cases in New York schools could allow flawed information to reach the community, educators warned.
The issue involves a state government website that posts various COVID-19 data for schools statewide, including the number of students, teachers and staff who tested positive. It is run by the Department of Health.
The tally of COVID-19 cases in schools statewide was 229 as of Monday, state health officials said, citing the data reported since Sept. 8.
But school officials suggested the current system for collecting the COVID-19 statistics could result in reporting delays and double-counts in some cases, effectively misrepresenting the risk to the public.
School officials might also struggle to obtain negative COVID-19 testing results as required, according to school leadership groups, which noted all of the potential problems could worsen in coming weeks of the virus’ positive rates increase.
“Right now, it’s manageable because there aren’t that many cases,” said Bob Lowry, deputy director for the state Council of School Superintendents.
“But as the fall progresses and turns into winter we could have more cases, and it could become more difficult.”
Cars and buses lined up to drop off students at Brookside Elementary school on Tuesday September 22. The wait for kids to have their health screened pushes traffic back off the schools campus, down Broad Street and even onto Saw Mill River Rd in Yorktown. (Photo: Isabel Keane)
Jay Worona, deputy executive director of the state School Boards Association, described the current system as a well-intentioned but poorly executed attempt at keeping the community informed about the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
“What ultimately can happen from a school districts perspective is the opposite of giving relative and important information to the public,” he said, adding people “could end up receiving information from an inflated number.”
The concerns included potential challenges in identifying COVID-19 cases in school districts that have buildings and workers in multiple counties, which each rely upon separate local health departments to investigate infections.
Further, many schools are not administering COVID-19 tests, meaning they must rely on county health departments and laboratories to provide much of the data, Worona and Lowry said.
The comments came as the new website, called the COVID-19 Report Card, launched recently after a delay from the previously announced launch date of Sept. 9.
A USA TODAY Network review of the website on Monday found some school districts listed as reporting no data. Several school districts also had zero COVID-19 cases reported on the database, despite previously making public statements about having COVID-19 cases in a school.
More:New York requires schools to report COVID-19 cases
What state health officials say about COVID-19 school data
Crossing guard Joe Benke directs traffic near Douglas Grafflin Elementary School on the first day of school in Chappaqua Sept. 3, 2020. (Photo: Tania Savayan/The Journal News)
In response to questions, state Health Department officials on Tuesday issued a statement to the USA TODAY Network outlining the agency’s plan for ensuring the COVID-19 data for schools is accurate and timely.
All public and private schools must report the required COVID-19 data whether they are open for in-person classes or operating remotely, the statement noted.
“Should schools not report, they face a range of financial and professional sanctions,” Jill Montag, Health Department spokeswoman said in the statement.
“Additionally, schools remain open only so long as they are in compliance with (Health Department) guidance and directives; if they do not comply, they will be required to close to in-person instruction,” she added.
Further, the statement noted local health departments and schools should establish frequent contact to communicate about test results.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also issued an executive order on Sept. 9 requiring laboratories and testing sites to ask if the person attends or works at a specific school in New York, with the results reported to state health officials through the Electronic Clinical Laboratory Reporting System.
Yet school officials asserted some testing sites were not following Cuomo’s order to inquire about COVID-19 positive connections to schools.
“From personal anecdotes we know that was not happening in every case, and hopefully that requirement becomes more widely disseminated,” Lowry said.
What school officials want for COVID-19 Report Card
Head custodian Jim McNamara sprays a classroom with disinfectant at Monroe-Woodbury High School Aug. 31, 2020. Classrooms will be disinfected at the end of every school day when students start in person learning later in September. In addition, the custodial staff will disinfect high touch areas throughout the school day. The same safety procedures will be followed at all Monroe-Woodbury Schools as the school year commences during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Seth Harrison/The Journal News)
Concerns about reporting delays and double-counting COVID-19 cases in schools stemmed in part from rules requiring local health departments, schools and labs to report similar information to the state Health Department, Lowry and Worona both said.
They said their respective groups have urged state officials to centralize school COVID-19 tracking efforts under local health departments to avoid confusion and duplication of results.
“Now is the time to address this; we don’t want to frighten parents with numbers that are not real,” Worona said.
Meanwhile, the state Health Department asserted Tuesday it is ultimately responsible for reviewing reported test results “for purposes of publishing accurate case counts in data products, such as the NYS COVID tracker” that publicly reports data on cases statewide.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, however, has declined to release COVID-19 data related to nursing home resident deaths at hospitals, citing in part his concerns that cases would get double counted and inaccurately inflate the death toll.
Zucker told lawmakers on Aug. 3 that the Health Department was working to review the data for accuracy and would release it upon completion.
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David Robinson is the state health care reporter for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter: @DrobinsonLoHud
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