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Jara: CCSD won’t post COVID quarantine numbers out of privacy concerns

The Clark County School District does not plan to make public the numbers of students and employees required to quarantine due to being a close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 out of privacy concerns, Superintendent Jesus Jara said Thursday.

“We’ve got to be really careful protecting individual cases,” Jara said in a brief interview after an event highlighting literacy.

He did point to the school district’s online COVID-19 case tracker, which is updated weekly and available to the public, as a source of information about the disease’s presence within the district.

But the website provides exact figures only for the district as a whole. A tool on the site that allows searches by school or other criteria sometimes returns only ranges, not actual numbers, and doesn’t differentiate between students and staff — information that is shared by some other big school districts.

Jara did not elaborate or explain why releasing quarantine numbers as other big public school districts do would raise privacy concerns. School district representatives did not respond to a request for clarification.

But Richard Karpel, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, questioned the use of privacy as an excuse for not providing the public with timely information, noting that no one is asking for the names of those in quarantine.

“I can’t understand how releasing aggregate data that would help people understand what is happening has anything to do with privacy,” he said.

On another coronavirus related matter, Jara said the decision to transition Lamping Elementary School in Henderson entirely to distance education on Tuesday was done to control the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure staffing.

The school district has released no information on the number of positive cases at the school nor said whether students, teachers or both were infected.

‘A pivot, not a closure’

Jara said there is no districtwide threshold that would trigger a switch to full distance learning — which he termed “a pivot, not a closure.”

Such an action would be taken on a case-by-case basis only after consultation with the school principal and the Southern Nevada Health District to ensure the safety of staff and students.

He said staff at Lamping Elementary did a good job switching immediately to distance education, which will continue through Aug. 27.

Jara also said that an Incident Command Center reopened Thursday morning to improve communication and coordination between the school district, the Southern Nevada Health District and county agencies. He didn’t detail its mission but indicated that bolstering contact tracing of COVID-19 cases in the schools was one of its tasks.

State officials also referred to the effort to increase contact tracing at schools so that the infected and their close contacts can be isolated quickly to prevent further spread of the disease.

“We do triage, you know,” Julia Peek, deputy administrator for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, said at a Thursday news briefing. “School-based cases are obviously the most important and … not only for COVID but for all infectious disease.”

Clark County officials did not respond to requests for additional information about the center Thursday afternoon.

Jara made comments after hosting New Mexico Lt. Gov. Howie Morales on a visit to three campuses — Tate Elementary School, Legacy High School and Walter Johnson Junior High School Academy of International Studies — to talk about literacy curriculum and interventions.

The Review-Journal has sought school district COVID-19 case and quarantine data by campus from the first week of school and was told by school district communications staff to submit a public records request. A request was submitted Aug. 13, but the newspaper hasn’t yet received the information.

While Jara pointed to the district’s COVID-19 case dashboard to highlight how the district is communicating with the public, the website at https://newsroom.ccsd.net/ccsd-covid-19-quick-facts/, provides limited and very general information, including districtwide totals of cases over different time periods and an overall breakdown of how many were among school staff, central staff and students.

As of Thursday, the district had reported 75 COVID-19 cases for the week and 408 this month, a figure that should include cases reported during the nearly two weeks of the current semester that began on Aug. 9.

623 cases since July 1

It has reported 623 cases since July 1. Of those, 322 were among school or central staff and 301 involved students.

The option to search by school, ZIP code, trustee district or type of facility is less helpful, providing only ranges, not actual figures. For most schools, for example, the result currently comes back as “fewer than 10.”

It’s also not clear how current the data is.

The district said in a statement earlier this week to the Review-Journal: “Data is updated regularly, but not in real-time, to allow for data verification and integrity.”

But as of Thursday, the dashboard was reporting zero cases reported this week at Lamping.

Some other large school districts are sharing more information with the public, or at least making an effort to do so.

The Washoe County School District in the Reno area, which has about 62,000 students, has a breakdown online that includes COVID-19 case numbers, the number of schools impacted, the number of exclusions for those who are deemed a close contact with a confirmed case and countywide metrics.

It also offers a list of active cases and exclusions at each campus, though it hasn’t been updated this school year.

“Exclusion data will be posted as soon as it is available in our continuing effort to be as transparent as possible as we work together to combat COVID in our schools throughout a variety of mitigation measures, including the consistent use of masks indoors by all students and staff members, frequent handwashing, and cleaning of classrooms, learning spaces, and offices,” the district said in a statement this week to the Review-Journal.

The district said it considers the dashboard “an important tool for keeping our students, families and the community apprised of the number of cases in our district.”

Data is provided to the school district by the Washoe County Health District and it’s updated every Monday during the school year.

The district is currently reporting nine COVID-19 cases among students and six among employees. In total, there are 130 exclusions across the district.

New York City Department of Education, the nation’s largest school district with about 1.1 million students, reports daily and cumulative COVID-19 case numbers. Its dashboard also includes the number of classroom closures, school investigations and school closures, but not quarantines.

Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district with about 340,000 students, has a breakdown on its website of case and quarantine numbers by campus. It also includes the number of COVID-19 tests administered and presumed positive cases for employees and students.

But how useful is school quarantine data?

UNLV epidemiologist Brian Labus said the number of quarantines “doesn’t really tell you much” and it doesn’t specify whether those exposures occurred at school or elsewhere.

“The problem with schoolwide data is it doesn’t really tell you what to do at an individual level,” he said.

For instance, a parent may see a high or low number of quarantines at their child’s school, but wouldn’t know where the person who tested positive was in the building, which grade level they’re in or which school activities they participate in.

Another challenge: It’s difficult for schools to get good data, Labus said, since children often have mild or asymptomatic infections and may not be tested.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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