Summit County’s ordinance requiring the wearing of masks in elementary schools if a COVID-19 outbreak flares could go into effect by the end of 2021 after the county council on Monday extended a provision required to remain.
But an announcement by the Utah Department of Health last week raises questions about the reliability of the data used to determine when a school has reached the threshold that would trigger such a mandate. The Ministry of Health said nearly half of the cases in school-age children across the country were not counted as school cases.
“People who refuse or cannot be interviewed are not associated with schools, so these data underestimate the true burden of COVID-19 in schools.” the department wrote.
Such a discrepancy could potentially be critical in Summit County, where existing ordinance requires the wearing of masks if 2% of an elementary school’s population – students and adults – test positive for COVID-19 within 14 days.
If only half of the diagnosed cases have been associated with a school, it is possible that the mandate is not being implemented as intended.
However, Summit County’s Health Director Phil Bondurant said Monday that the data the Summit County’s Department of Health uses to determine school cases doesn’t suffer from the same issues that affect the state database.
“We are basing our response and may not meet the COVID trigger on the numbers reported by the contact point at each school, not on the state database,” he said.
He said the recent surge in local cases is nowhere near as severe as in the rest of the state and there are “very low numbers” in Summit County’s schools.
He added that he had no reason to believe that the local schools’ data was inaccurate or insufficiently reported.
“Our system that we have implemented here on site is actually more efficient than the state system,” said Bondurant. “There may be a delay of more than three days when it is reported on the state website. For us this is reported on the same day that the school knows that there is a positive case. “
The health ministry has received government funding to hire a coordinator to work with schools, Bondurant said. This person is in direct contact with Summit County’s three school districts and updates the numbers in real time in shared documents.
Bondurant said the county’s contact tracers are focusing on cases in people under the age of 18.
He also said that people who refused to be interviewed did not interfere with local contact tracing efforts. He acknowledged that as with other aspects of the pandemic response, the Ministry of Health is relying on community members to “do the right thing,” including keeping children away from school when they feel sick.
At a special session of the district council on Monday convened to extend the health ordinance that was due to expire that day, Bondurant told elected officials that no school had more than 1% of the population positive for COVID within two weeks. 19 were tested this fall period.
“We have not had any outbreaks in our schools – two or more cases related to one case,” he said.
He shared too Data suggesting cases occur in younger people. As of July 1, there have been 133 cases of COVID-19 in Summit County’s residents who are 14 years of age or younger, nearly one in five diagnosed.
As of Monday evening, the Park City School District has reported 12 cases among its four elementary schools, North Summit two cases reported in his elementary school and South Summit reported zero cases at his elementary school.
Park City and North Summit host the data on their own websites, while South Summit uses the state interface.
Jodi Jones, a spokesman for the South Summit School District, said the numbers reported on the state website exactly match the number of cases in the district.
Bondurant said the South Summit’s case reporting system appeared to be “working well”.
He also offered a possible explanation for some cases in teenagers not included in the school case count.
For a case to be included in a school’s numbers, the person must have been to school within 48 hours of experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or testing positive for the disease. A case that manifested itself over a weekend would not be counted if, for example, the child stayed home on Monday.
At Monday’s meeting, Bondurant recommended that the council extend the public health emergency ordinance.
“The fact that we are still reporting deaths and hospital admissions for COVID-19 when the vaccine is available shows that there is still an emergency,” he said. “… We are still in a situation in which the hospital system is overwhelmed. Our health care workers are once again at the end of their wisdom to cope with a situation that is 100% preventable. “
The council unanimously the order extended until 31.12.