AGWSR High School reported its first COVID-19 case on Thursday last week, just four days into the school year. The case was confirmed by Superintendent Erik Smith. But while most area school districts are planning some form of communication to announce cases of the disease among students and employees - like AGWSR did - at least one Hardin County superintendent has said that information will not be made public.
The State of Iowa has not issued requirements that school districts notify the public of confirmed cases of COVID-19 – the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Unlike long term care center outbreaks, which are identified on the state’s coronavirus website, public notification of school outbreaks is up to each individual district.
Tony Neumann, superintendent of the Iowa Falls and Alden school districts said last week that the districts will not be publishing the number of confirmed cases at the schools, or the number of students who are in quarantine as a result of exposure to the disease. He cited a need to preserve individuals’ privacy and noted that only people who were or may have been in contact with a person will be notified. Neumann said the discussion about how best to communicate information about positive COVID-19 cases in the schools – and to whom – was started by school administrators before school started last month, and it is continuing.
“We discussed this at length this summer and felt it would be best to only provide written communication to those most directly involved,” he wrote in an email last week. Students or staff who have been in direct contact with someone who later tests positive will be contacted by a school administrator or a nurse and they will receive written communication. If a person was in the same environment (bus, classroom, team, etc.) as a person who tests positive, they will receive written notification of the case. People who were simply in the same building as a person who tested positive will not be contacted at all. Neumann said any notifications about contact will keep the identity of the person who tested positive private.
At South Hardin schools, Superintendent Dr. Adam Zellmer is taking a more open approach, issuing a weekly letter summarizing coronavirus activity in the Eldora-New Providence and Hubbard-Radcliffe school districts. His most recent letter, dated Sept. 4, listed data for the week of Aug. 31 through Sept. 4. It included the districts’ 14-day positivity rate (9.1 percent); the “State Defined Condition” (Minimal to Moderate); New Cases of Confirmed Exposure to COVID-19 (3); New Confirmed Positive Cases of COVID-19 (0); and Total in Quarantine or Isolation due to Exposure (4). Each data point is defined and explained.
Smith at AGWSR said his district plan is similar to Zellmer’s. And Dr. Kristie Fisher, chancellor of the Iowa Valley Community College District, said the district will publish infection and quarantine numbers for each of its campuses on a website that was not yet up and running as of last week.
Sara Willette, a data scientist who launched an Iowa COVID-19 tracking website earlier this year, has partnered with the Iowa State Education Association to gather and publish information about confirmed COVID-19 cases in schools. As of Monday, the site listed only the one confirmed case at AGWSR High School. The site does have a form for self reporting cases.
Neither the Iowa Department of Education, nor the Iowa Department of Public Health is reporting confirmed cases of the disease in an Iowa schools.
Times Citizen reporters Matthew Rezab and Marissa VanWingen, and Ackley World Journal editor Becky Schipper contributed to this reporting.