From The Tribune staff reports
TRUSSVILLE — Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson released information pertaining to the amount of school-aged children (5 to 18-years-old) who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Wilson sent the numbers to the city of Trussville and to Trussville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Pattie Neill in order to provide a “sense of context” for school reopening, although there is no way to verify the children attend TCS.
The numbers were broken into four week periods:
6/28 – 7/25: 40
7/26 – 8/22: 25
8/23 – 9/21: 72
For the entire three months considered, the city of Trussville had a total of 585 residents who tested positive for the virus. 137 of those were in the 5 – 18 years-old age range.
“The average age among these school-age cases has been about 15 years old,” Wilson added.
In the email, Wilson said the Trussville City Schools reopening plan seems to be working.
“It is often impossible to determine exactly where someone became infected with the virus, we are not aware of any cases that were contracted at school during class time, thanks to the precautions you have put in place,” Wilson wrote.
The Trussville City School system has not released the number of coronavirus cases in schools because of privacy concerns. Wilson said he does believe numbers of cases are important for the public to know.
“I think it’s helpful for parents to be informed,” Wilson said in an interview with The Tribune. “The spread of the virus has a lot more to do with our precautions that we’re taking and less to do with the numbers unless the numbers get bad and we have an actual outbreak within the schools.”
Hoover City Schools launched a coronavirus dashboard just this week. TCS Board of Education member Mark Sims asked for a similar process during a regular meeting for the board. TCS Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Services Dr. Mandi Logan told Sims that it would be nearly impossible for the nurses of schools to gather all of the data because of the workload that would put on them.
According to the Hoover City School dashboard, 36 students have tested positive for COVID-19 and another 57 are suspected, but have not yet tested positive. That includes all students who have reported to the school whether they attend classes through the 50% blended option or the virtual option.
HCS has an enrollment of 13,443 students while Trussville City Schools has an enrollment of approximately 4,800 students.
When asked how anyone would know about an outbreak at a school that is not releasing numbers, Wilson said superintendents are taking the pandemic very seriously and would likely do what is necessary to stop the spread. He also said he is looking forward to the State Department of Education providing those numbers soon.
Wilson released the following statement concerning the release of COVID-19 numbers within the Trussville City Schools system:
There have been some discussions between JCDH and a few school leaders, including the Trussville City Schools superintendent, about sharing information about COVID-19 cases among school students. JCDH has significant limitations on what it can report due to HIPAA regulations. Regarding the schools sharing information, we have discussed concerns about protecting students’ privacy, as well as making sure the data are accurate. It is our understanding that the State is considering potential ways to collect and share information with the public that protect privacy and assure accuracy.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HIPAA laws to not apply to most schools and school districts.
In an interview with The Tribune, Wilson said it is challenging to determine where exactly someone gets the virus.
“We do disease investigations as much as we can,” Wilson said. “We do the contact tracing and all of that.”
The health officer added that contact tracing requires people who test positive to alert those they have been around.
“We also look at how many cases popped up in the same place at the same time,” said Wilson.
When it comes to the coronavirus, Wilson said those who are asymptomatic often go uncounted because they do not realize they have the virus and are not tested.
“We can’t absolutely prove anything,” Wilson added. “Because all of this is circumstantial but we haven’t seen anything that’s clearly linked to the schools. There could be because it can be asymptomatic.”
In the email to the city and the TCS Superintendent, Wilson said precautions in schools seem to be effective so far. He did voice concerns about activities happening out of schools.
“We remain concerned about activities that occur outside of school where the virus is spreading,” Wilson stated in the email. “Also, keep in mind that there are certainly many more people who have been infected who were never tested.”
When asked what activities Wilson was speaking of in the email, he said social events including football games, parties and sleepovers.
“What we are concerned about mostly is not what’s happening during the school day, in the school, as much as we are what’s happening outside of the school,” Wilson said. “That is stuff that we can’t control. We would like our public to take that more seriously.”
– Dr. Mark Wilson