MANSFIELD -- In the past two days, two school districts have shut down for a day while Richland Public Health conducts COVID-19 contact tracing.
These unexpected closures prompted a myriad of questions in the community.
How prevalent is COVID-19 in Richland County schools? How big a threat is COVID-19 to the health of students and their teachers? Are schools required to report each positive case?
Below, you’ll find answers to these questions, as well as a COVID-19 tracker for Richland County. We will update this tracker daily as information becomes available. We source this information from local school district websites, some of which are updated daily, and weekly totals as reported by the Ohio Department of Health.
On its website, ODH states that the incidence of COVID-19 cases does not equal poor mitigation efforts within a school district.
"A report of COVID-19 should not be interpreted as an indicator that a school district or school isn’t following proper procedures — school cases can be a reflection of the overall situation in the broader community," the site reads. "Families and staff should always feel free to ask questions of the school district or school.
"Our view is that the school districts in Richland County are following their plans to the best of their ability," said Reed Richmond of Richland Public Health. "They probably have all encountered issues that came up after the schools reopened and they have probably adapted as necessary."
Are staff and students required to notify the school if they test positive for COVID-19?
Parents or guardians of students and school staff diagnosed with COVID-19 are “encouraged” to notify their school no later than 24 hours after receiving a confirmed diagnosis, either through a positive test or medical professional, according to an order from the Ohio Department of Health.
School districts are required to have a system in place for reporting COVID-19 cases that is monitored daily.
Are schools required to notify the parents and guardians if a student or staff member tests positive?
Yes -- if the student or staff member works in their child’s school building.
“Within 24 hours of becoming aware of a student, teacher, staff member or coach who has tested positive or been diagnosed with COVID-19, a school shall notify parents or guardians of students of the existence of the case in writing and share as much information as possible without disclosing protected health information,” according to an order from the Ohio Department of Health.
While schools are not required to report the classroom or grade level to the entire school population, they are required to issue a written notification to parents or guardians of all students who "share a classroom space or have participated in a school activity during the infectious period" of an infected individual."
The Ohio Department of Health defines the infectious period as “the time from 48 hours before the onset of symptoms (or 48 hours before sample collection of a positive test for asymptomatic individuals) until the time when the individual is isolated.”
The order further states that the schoolwide notification may be made through email or a school district’s website. Schools are required to notify families of each case, but may consolidate notifications if necessary.
Are schools required to notify the public if a student or staff member tests positive?
Schools are not required to notify the entire school district or the public of a COVID-19 case. However, they are required to report all cases to their local health department within 24 hours. Local health departments report these numbers to the Ohio Department of Health, which updates its COVID-19 school dashboard every Thursday.
Are school districts required to post case numbers on their district website?
No, but some school districts have.
Do schools count part-time or online-only students in case numbers?
School districts are not required to report cases to their local health department, if the student or staff member is “completely remote.” However, schools are required to report cases if the student or staff member was “on-site” and interacted with other students and staff during their infectious period -- this includes during sporting events or other extracurriculars.
How dangerous is COVID-19 in schools?
A state-level data report from the American Academy of Pediatrics indicated that severe COVID-19 symptoms were low among children.
“A very small percentage of children have been hospitalized and a smaller percentage have died. It is so rare that it almost always makes the news,” Richmond said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics report found that, as of Oct. 15, children have presented approximately 10.9 percent of all positive cases since the onset of the pandemic -- 741,891 cases of the 6,837,527 cases reported by age. The data was sourced from health department websites of 49 states, New York City, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Texas only reported age distribution for 7 percent of COVID cases.
This percentage has risen steadily since April, when children made up a mere 2 percent of total cases, based on data from 46 states, New York City and Washington D.C.
Richmond also noted that since children are less likely to get sick from coronavirus, testing children is not being done on a state or national level to the same extent as testing adults.
Testing data was more limited in the study, with only ten states reporting the ages of those tested. In the ten-state review, children made up between 5 and 16.8 percent of total state tests, and between 3.5 and 14.4 percent of children tested were positive.
A smaller subset of states reported on hospitalizations and mortality among child COVID-19 patients. In a review of data from 24 states and New York City, between .5 percent and 7.2 percent of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in hospitalization, meaning that children represented between 1 and 3.6 percent of total reported hospitalizations.
Of the 42 states (and New York City) that reported child mortality rates, children made up between zero and .27 percent of all COVID-19 deaths. Fourteen states reported zero child deaths, while the percentage of child COVID-19 cases that resulted in death were between zero and .16 percent.
“The most vulnerable children are those with pre-existing health conditions and compromised immune systems,” Richmond said. “They would be under-represented in school numbers because they aren’t in school. Parents who have children in those categories are fully aware of it and therefore not putting their children at risk.”
"One thing we don't know yet is if children who are carrying the COVID-19 virus but not showing symptoms will develop immunity from it later in life," Richmond added.
Despite the fact that young children aren’t likely to suffer from serious symptoms if infected, taking steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools is important.
“Children are little incubators for all kinds of sicknesses and diseases that they sometimes show no symptoms for,” Richmond said. “Since we have no vaccine for COVID-19 and children are less likely to get seriously ill from it, it's important that social distancing, masks, and frequent hand washing is followed in order to protect the teachers and staff at the schools. That includes the lunch workers, custodial staff, and bus drivers.”