COVID-19 Q&A: Counting cases associated with Idaho schools

Q: The state has started posting a weekly summary of the number COVID-19 cases that are reported in each school. How are those numbers compiled?

A: Gathering case counts associated with schools is not an easy process. Information is gathered by state public health epidemiologists from local public health reports, media stories, and school reporting, and are limited to available information.

Disease tracking is based on a person’s usual place of legal residence. Local public health districts don’t know what school a child attends until they do the case investigation, and the parent agrees to provide that information. Public health officials will know some basic demographic information such as age and sex of the child, but they won’t know the school a child attends until a case investigation is conducted and the information is provided. If a parent isn’t able to be contacted or doesn’t provide the name of the school their child attends, then public health won’t know that information.

The weekly summary is not complete, but it is the best information we can provide at the state level at a certain point in time to give parents and others an idea for how COVID-19 is affecting their schools. We continue to work to improve this system and provide as much information as possible so that parents, school officials, teachers, and others can use it to make informed decisions as the pandemic continues.

Q: Why are the numbers reported in the weekly summary from the state sometimes different from the numbers reported by the schools?

A: The data provided in the weekly summary of COVID-19 cases associated with Idaho schools is a point-in-time snapshot of the number of cases associated with specific schools’ staff and students. It’s updated weekly, rather than daily.

The information for the state’s summary is compiled from a variety of sources and reported once a week. It’s possible our staff could miss a media report or that the disease investigator isn’t able to determine where the child attends school. It’s also possible that schools may not report data, so the numbers may not match. If schools choose to post the number of cases associated with the school, they will likely have the latest and most accurate information since the state’s information is a weekly summary.

Q: Why can’t the state compel schools to provide information about COVID-19 cases in their staffs and student populations?

A: Idaho law requires school administrators to report a school closure because of communicable diseases, but it does not require them to report individual cases of this disease. Cases of disease are already reported to the local public health districts and then to the state Division of Public Health by laboratories and the healthcare providers that order the tests.

To slow the spread of COVID-19 in Idaho, please remember to:

  • Keep at least six feet between you and others in public
  • Wear face coverings in public places 
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects regularly

Resources

Stay up-to-date with the latest and most accurate information on COVID-19 at the following websites:

DHW also posts lots of information, including daily updates on the numbers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Christine Hahn, MD, is the state epidemiologist and medical director in DHW’s Division of Public Health.

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