Record editorial: Transparency about COVID-19 case counts in schools is crucial
Transparency is the best policy, particularly during a crisis.
The Park City School District, following the example of other school systems around the state, took a major step in that direction last week when it began providing information about the number of COVID-19 cases in each school. The district also pledged to notify parents whenever there is a case in their child’s classroom.
This is data the community needs to know. For faculty members and parents who have sent their children to class in person, as the vast majority have opted to do rather than pursue remote learning, there’s peace of mind in knowing how many active cases there are in each school and that they’ll be told if and when a student has tested positive.
Judging from the first batch of numbers the district released, the situation to this point is encouraging. As of Sunday, there were only two active cases in the district — one at Treasure Mountain Junior High and another at Park City High School. Like everything where the coronavirus is concerned, the situation has the potential to change quickly, but parents will breathe easier knowing they are not sending their children out the door in the morning and into a large COVID-19 outbreak.
Not providing that assurance allows the rumor mill to churn, as it has since the school year started last month, with speculation swirling on social media and in email chains about potential cases at schools. Now, rather than trying to tease out the truth while scrolling through Facebook, where fear often trumps fact, parents can refer to the hard data from the district. They can also be assured that, should their student be exposed to an infected person at school, they will still be notified by the district or a health official.
For now, the district says the COVID-19 numbers will be updated weekly. Given how rapidly the virus can spread, though, officials should consider providing updates more frequently — two or three times a week, if not daily, even if the numbers don’t change that often.
Many parents would appreciate that added layer of transparency.
The start of school has not been without bumps. Critics of the district’s reopening have been vocal, particularly a segment of teachers who said they didn’t feel safe returning to classrooms without more significant safety measures in place (district officials, in response, have pointed to more than $1.7 million in COVID-related expenditures and the exhaustive efforts that went into crafting a reopening plan).
The publication of the active case counts does not erase those concerns. But it will go a long way toward reassuring parents, students and staff members on a day-to-day basis that the virus is not running rampant in schools.
The importance of that is difficult to overstate.
More information about the district’s COVID-19 numbers can be found at pcschools.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/COVID-Exposure-and-Response-Protocol1-Google-Docs.pdf.
Correction: A previous version of this editorial incorrectly stated that the district would notify parents whenever there is a positive case in their child’s school. Superintendent Jill Gildea clarified that parents will be notified only when there is a positive case in their child’s classroom or if there is spread of COVID-19 in a school beyond an isolated case.
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Our view: It’s been disheartening to see the rate of new cases accelerate in recent weeks, fueled by the holidays, despite the pleas of health experts to act responsibly, avoid gatherings and be as cautious as possible.