As Omicron hits schools, K-12 data void is wider than ever

Two years into the pandemic, you might think that, by now, schools would have figured out a strategy to continue teaching kids while keeping them safe from the coronavirus. Instead, the school situation is more chaotic than ever. Thousands of schools went online or closed entirely this week, likely more than in any other week since spring 2020. And yet: there is currently no national data source tracking COVID-19 cases in schools, and nine states fail to report any data on this crucial topic.

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The challenges of routine COVID-19 testing in schools

At 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.

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Fall 2021 school reopening: Stats so far

The 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.

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Opening profile: Going above and beyond in Crown Heights, Brooklyn

P.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.

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Opening profile: Personal responsibility in Andrews, Texas

Andrews Independent School District, in West Texas, prioritized personal responsibility, giving families information to make individual choices about their children’s safety. Partnerships with the local health department, outdoor classes, increased ventilation, and an intensive cleaning regimen also helped keep cases down — even though the district did not follow all CDC protocols, such as required quarantines and masks for the youngest students.

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Opening profile: Community over wifi in Garrett County, Maryland

Unlike other districts in Maryland, Garrett County Public Schools was able to bring the majority of its students back to classrooms during the spring 2021 semester. The district built trust with its community by utilizing local partnerships, providing families with crucial supplies, setting up task forces to plan reopening, and communicating extensively with parents.

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