The academic year is coming to an end for most schools pretty soon (I’ve been off for about a week, but I’m a college student), so we thought it’d be appropriate to check in on the state of state K-12 COVID-19 data. We’ve been keeping track of the metrics reported by states throughout the fall and spring, and you can find our annotations of those sources here.
We had a few metrics that we looked for in a school tracker (if one exists for a state at all, which we’ll get to.) These include cases, hospitalizations, deaths, tests, test positivity rate, and in-person enrollment. We also wanted to know if trackers were separating student cases from staff cases. While we didn’t expect every state tracker to account for all of these, a robust tracker should include at least a few.
Turns out, no state trackers reported all of our wished-for metrics. Most trackers—37 of them—just reported cases and called it good, and 24 of them separated cases by students and staff. There are too many states in this vein to list them all, but a few include Alabama, Indiana, Idaho, the Dakotas, South Carolina, and Oregon (which is my home state so I’m a bit more disappointed.)
But when we narrow it down to slightly more granular metrics like hospitalizations, the number of trackers that report them drop significantly. Only five states reported deaths: Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, and Virginia. Three reported hospitalizations: Illinois, Kansas, and Georgia. Two reported tests: Georgia and New York. (One caveat for Georgia: they’re not actually reporting cases in schools, they’re reporting cases in school-aged children.)
To assess how robust a particular state’s tracker was, we assigned it an index number based on how many metrics it reported. (The methodology for doing so can be found here.) Essentially, a higher number indicates a more robust tracker. With this methodology, the top five states were New York (19), Kentucky (14), Texas (14), New Hampshire (14) and South Carolina (13). The bottom three were Utah, Arizona, and Kansas (all 7.) The average was between 8 and 9, with a median of 9.
However, so far we’ve been talking about states with school trackers at all. 11 states do not track school cases (at the very least, we couldn’t find their school tracker). I’ll actually list these out: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wyoming.
In pointing this out, I’m not trying to shame the public health authorities in these states who are working very hard to get this pandemic under control. I’m trying to get the point across that statewide school data is still very fractured and very incomplete. And while we wait for a complete federal tracker, state data is really all we have. COVID-19 is still going to be a threat in schools as long as people under 16 can’t get vaccinated; we should at least know how much of a threat it’s turned out to be.
- The challenges of routine COVID-19 testing in schoolsAt this point in the pandemic, we know that routine COVID-19 testing can be a key tactic for reducing transmission in communal settings. If you identify cases as soon as they occur through asymptomatic testing, you can quickly isolate those cases and quarantine their contacts—preventing the cases from turning into outbreaks. This strategy works everywhere from kindergarten classrooms to the NBA.
- Opening project conclusion: 11 lessons from the schools that safely reopenedIn the COVID-19 Data Dispatch’s “Opening” series, we profiled five school communities that successfully reopened during the 2020-2021 school year. Through exploring these success stories, we found that the schools used many similar strategies to build trust with their communities and keep COVID-19 case numbers down.
- Fall 2021 school reopening: Stats so farThe COVID-19 Data Dispatch has, clearly, been pretty focused on school reopening in recent weeks. But our “Opening” project is primarily retrospective, looking back at schools that were successful last school year. This fall, the Delta variant and additional political pressures have made reopening success even harder to achieve.
- Opening profile: Going above and beyond in Crown Heights, BrooklynP.S. 705 went above and beyond New York City school reopening guidance, with a particular reliance on the city’s surveillance testing program. This elementary school had a 55% enrollment by the end of the 2020-2021 school year, above the city’s average of about 40%, and made it through the year with just 11 total cases — and zero closures.
- Opening profile: Close-knit community in Port Orford and Langlois, OregonA school-library partnership exemplifies the close-knit community of the two small, coastal towns making up the Port Orford-Langlois School District. This district built up community trust and used a cautious, step-by-step reopening strategy to make it through the 2020-2021 school year with zero cases identified in school buildings.