Opening: Five school districts that kept their communities safe

The divided communities made the news — but not all U.S. schools were fighting grounds. In fact, many districts managed to bring the majority of their students back into classrooms without breeding a dreaded COVID-19 outbreak. Here, at the COVID-19 Data Dispatch, we’re sharing stories from five such districts. The series will be published in installments: one profile a week for the next five weeks, followed by a conclusion with overall insights and lessons for fall 2021.

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Teachers can get vaccinated in every state, but we don’t know how many are

As of this past Monday, K-12 teachers in every state are now eligible for vaccination. Teachers were already prioritized in most of the country, but Biden directed the remaining states to adjust their priority lists last week. The federal government also pulled teachers into the federal pharmacy program, previously used for long-term care facilities. But there’s one big problem: we have no idea how many teachers have actually been inoculated.

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Experts say schools could reopen, but data are still scarce

The medical journal JAMA released an article written by three CDC officials about opening schools. The conclusion was that it appears that reopening schools safely is possible—but before we turn everyone loose, there are a lot of caveats. And critically, protective measures that need to be taken are not limited to the schools themselves.

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Data on schools reopening lag the actual reopening of schools

As conversations on school reopening heighten at both national and local levels, a data journalist like myself has to ask: what data do we have on the topic? Is it possible to track how school reopening is impacting COVID-19 outbreaks, or vice versa? The answer is, as with any national question about COVID-19, the data are spotty. It’s possible to track cases and deaths at the county level, but no source comprehensively tracks testing at a level more local than the state. It is impossible to compare percent positivity rates—that crucial metric many districts are using to determine whether they can safely reopen—both broadly and precisely across the country.

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