Indiana to track COVID-19 in schools with new data dashboard
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A new online tool designed to help track COVID-19 cases in Indiana schools is expected to be released by the end of the month.
The data dashboard will reflect the new and cumulative numbers of positive COVID-19 cases among students, teachers, and in a given school. It will be updated on a weekly basis, said Dr. Kristina Box, commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health.
While the school virus dashboard hasn’t yet launched, state officials provided the first historical snapshot of school COVID-19 cases Wednesday. About 2,000 schools, over 70% of those across the state, have already contributed data, Box said. Initial numbers indicate more than 1,100 schools reported no COVID-19 cases, and more than 900 reported at least one case.
In the positive cases logged so far, nearly 1,900 students, teachers and other school employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since the new school year started this fall. Students make up the majority of the reported cases, with 1,348 cases, with another 274 cases reported among the state’s teachers and 276 cases in other staff members.
Case totals are likely to increase in the coming days as more schools submit their data, Box said. But because the reporting by schools is voluntary, the state dashboard numbers won’t fully capture cases. If school participation becomes an issue, however, Box said the state may consider making it mandatory for district leaders to report their data.
“The purpose is not to stigmatize a school or to penalize them,” Box said during a Sept. 9 news conference. “The purpose is not to mandate whether schools are hosting in-person classes or going virtual because those decisions are made locally.”
The state reported Wednesday that 94% of schools are now offering at least some degree of in-person instruction. With school leaders and local health departments in control of deciding when school buildings should close or reopen as the coronavirus pandemic continues, Box added that the creation of the new school dashboard is intended help guide districts as they weigh decisions about their operational plans.
Still, the case counts reported by the tracker have been difficult for the public to see, until now. Currently, schools are required to report positive cases to their local health department, but it’s up to school officials to determine if other students and families in the district are notified of positive cases.
As early as next week, the school data will be available to the public and searchable by individual school. Schools reporting fewer than five positive cases will have their data suppressed to protect privacy.
Once the dashboard is released, Indiana will join more than a dozen other states that publicly provide numbers of COVID-19 cases in schools.
Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.