The Journal Gazette
Friday, September 25, 2020 1:00 am

Dashboard to show school cases

Locally, exposure has Croninger class isolated


A COVID-19 exposure on Sept. 11 forced a Croninger Elementary School class, including the teacher, into a quarantine that ends Saturday – at a time when cases associated with schools are receiving increased scrutiny statewide.

Indiana State Health Department Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said Wednesday that about 900 schools had reported cases since Friday to a new state dashboard that will list new and cumulative cases by district and school. 

The dashboard is expected to be ready for public release by the end of the month. About 70% of districts had reported by Wednesday, Box said.

Preliminary information, she said, is nearly 1,900 students, teachers and other school employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since the new school year started.

Students make up the majority of the reported cases, with 1,348 cases, and another 274 cases have been reported among the state's teachers. Another 276 cases are in other staff members.

Case totals are likely to increase 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, Box said the state may consider making it mandatory for district leaders to report data.

Fort Wayne Community Schools spokeswoman Krista Stockman said FWCS had submitted information to the state, but she did not immediately know Thursday how many students are in the quarantined class.

East Allen County Schools has not reported its cases, spokeswoman Tamyra Kelly said. Whether Southwest Allen County Schools or Northwest Allen County Schools had reported could not be determined Wednesday.

FWCS notified families of their child's exposure to COVID-19 with a Sept. 15 letter from Mary Hess, director of health and wellness. The children met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's definition of high-risk contact – coming within 6 feet of someone with the illness for at least 15 minutes, Hess wrote.

Students were instructed to stay home unless seeking medical care until Saturday. Inviting new visitors in the home also was discouraged.

Statewide, reported information about school-related cases has been spotty.

However, the Kosciusko County Health Department has been tracking and posting detailed data about school-related cases on its Facebook page. The most recent information shows 31 cases in students ages 5 to 18, college students, and school staff members between Aug. 10 and Sept. 15.

As a result, 225 people were quarantined.

The 31 cases make up about 8% of the county's 370 reported cases during that time, according to state health department statistics.  

The Kosciusko information goes deeper. It classifies cases as asymptomatic (12), very mild with symptoms lasting up to 4 days (16), mild with symptoms up to 7 days without intervention (1) and moderate or symptoms lasting more than seven days with intervention such as an antibiotic for a coinfection (2).

The county also tracks the ages of those infected in connection with schools, with the largest proportion in older age groups – 45.2% were ages 14 to 18 and 19.4% were over 19. But 25.8% were ages 5 to 10, and those 11 to 13 were 9.7% of cases.

None of the cases was tied to a known school case, Teresa Reed, the county's communicable disease nurse, said Thursday. She said the data has been useful in getting a head start on contact tracing and determining how to react.

She said all schools are sharing information voluntarily. 

Box said Sept. 9 the purpose of collecting school data “is not to stigmatize a school or penalize them.” She said Wednesday the numbers will be important to determine the prevalence of the disease among children and young people, who had been thought to get the illness only rarely.

A previous effort to track school cases based on reports from school officials, parents and media by the Indianapolis Star found only about half the number of cases now reported to the state.

That database includes two cases, one each, in Southwest Allen County's Deer Ridge Elementary School and Homestead High School. The Deer Ridge case was reported Aug.19 and the Homestead case July 13 in an athlete.

Northwest Allen County Schools has one case from Aug. 19 in a “person” listed, and East Allen County has a similar listing from Aug. 26 associated with Woodlan Elementary. Bishop Dwenger High School is noted as having “multiple” cases from Aug. 20, with the school moving to a hybrid model for classes as a result.

Stockman said the Croninger case illustrates the value of keeping students grouped together throughout the school day rather than letting them mingle.

“So it isn't an entire building” that's quarantined, she said.

 Lessons for the Croninger class continued remotely, Stockman said.

Allen County reported 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total to 6,115. No new deaths were added to the 198 previously reported.

Indiana reported 920 confirmed cases, for a total of 114,236 cases, and 17 new deaths for a total of 3,322 confirmed deaths and 225 more probable deaths.

The state reported Wednesday that 94% of schools are now offering at least some in-person instruction. With school leaders and local health departments deciding when school buildings should close or reopen as the pandemic continues, Box said, the new school dashboard is intended to help districts as they weigh decisions.

The school data will be available to the public and searchable by individual school as early as next week. Schools reporting fewer than five positive cases will have their data suppressed to protect privacy.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

At a glance

New cases in area counties (with totals in parentheses):

Adams: 3 (255)

Allen: 51 (6,115)

DeKalb: 10 (487)

Huntington: 3 (225)

Kosciusko: 6 (1,211)

LaGrange: 3 (634)

Noble: 6 (900)

Steuben: 1 (378)

Wabash: 1 (263)

Wells: 0 (251)

Whitley: 6 (261)

Sources: Indiana State Department of Health, Allen County Department of Health, DeKalb County Health Department

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