Schools plan to track COVID-19 indicators

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Reporter | August 26, 2020 1:00 AM

The Whitefish School District plans to monitor several indicators related to COVID-19 throughout the duration of the school year in order to make decisions regarding how schools will continue to operate.

In a recent special board meeting on Aug. 18, the Whitefish School Board discussed both internal and external indicators, or measures of data, that will be monitored by the district’s COVID task force. These indicators are key considerations for reviewing current restrictions on activity, recommendations and precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, the district notes.

Tracking and measuring the trends in data groups - such as new daily cases or case investigation capacity - will help the school district determine if current school procedural guidelines are adequate, or need to be tightened up or relaxed over time.

According to Superintendent Dave Means, the district will continue to work closely with the Flathead City-County Health Department to monitor the data available.

“Temporary classroom, grade level, or school (building) closure may be made by city-county health or by the school district administration in consultation with Flathead City-County Health,” Means said during the meeting. “These decisions may be related to contact tracing, they may be related to the number of cases or could be guided by the capacity indicators from both organizations, or indicators from our area hospitals.”

During the meeting Means informed the board of the external indicators tracked by the health department that the district will be watching — total active cases, number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized, daily new cases per 100,000 people over a seven day average, case investigation capacity, level of community concern, healthcare system capacity and testing capacity.

Means explained that an important data point to watch is the number of new cases per 100,000 people. That number in Flathead County has hovered around 10 new cases a day for quite some time now, according to Means. He also stressed it’s important to watch the trends and that if the number of new cases spiked up one day it does not necessarily mean transmission of the virus is worsening.

“What’s really important is towatch the trends (in data) and the averages,” Means said.

The information for the external indicators is available on the city-county health’s website. One indicator currently in the red, which means it is concerning, is the health department having adequate capacity to conduct contact monitoring.

Means also echoed that concern, saying the health department’s ability to perform contact tracing is critical for the district to be able to keep schools open. If it came to the point that the health department could not monitor this properly, he said, that would probably force the district to go to remote learning full time.

As far as internal indicators that the school district will be tracking, that list includes the average of concerned cases sent home, students and staff quarantined, positive cases within the district, and the number of guest teachers needed.

Deanne Sramek, a school nurse practitioner and also the district’s coordinator of COVID-19 mitigation practices, will be maintaining a spreadsheet of all data related to the indicators. Nurses at each school will be adding data regarding new cases and the number of people quarantined, as well as administration who will track the number of guest teachers needed.

According to Means, Sramek and the district’s COVID command team will be looking at this spreadsheet weekly to guide decisions regarding the health and safety of everyone in the school buildings.

Whitefish Schools begin the new school year on Wednesday, Aug. 26 with a hybrid in-person and remote-learning format for a transitional period of five weeks. While monitoring COVID-19 indicators, the district hopes to have up to 100% of students back on campus after Sept. 25.