SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard for cases in schools’ data is likely not fully accurate, the website states.
“People who refuse or are unable to be interviewed are not associated with schools, so these data are an underestimate of the true burden of COVID-19 in schools. In the last two weeks, only 51.9% of cases among 5-17 years old have been linked to a school and will display in the school table below,” the website reads.
Jenny Johnson is a public information officer for UDOH. Public health must be told where a child goes to school and if a child was in school in order to link the positive COVID-19 case to a specific school.
“Public health doesn’t know if a child was in a school. We can make a pretty high assumption that any children under 18 who are school aged are likely school associated cases in the state in Utah but we have to have that confirmation,” she said.
The information can come from parents, the school (if parents informed them), or some local health departments have school nurses that can provide the information.
“If we don’t know about cases in schools, that means we cant take measures to prevent spread to other people,” Johnson said warning of the protentional dangers.
It is frustrating when people don’t get tested for COVID-19 or participate in contact tracing, Infectious Disease physician, Dr. Emily Spivak, University of Utah Health, said.
“I know people are worried about schools being triggered into test to stay and potentially shutting down, but if there is COVID transmitting and spreading in the school, you’re probably eventually going to get there and it is better to just know,” she said.
The looming winter months is also a concern, as there are few requirements to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 in schools, Spivak said.
“I think parents need to know we are going into this winter season clearly in a phenomenally worse situation than we were last fall,” she said.
Johnson urged those who are eligible to get vaccinated and encouraged children in school wear masks.
“Sending a child to school after you know they are positive or if they have very severe symptoms of COVID and you refuse to get them tested that can be potentially dangerous,” she said.
Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should participate in contact tracing through their local health department. The individual may receive a phone call or a text message with an online option for contact tracing. Parents should alert the school when their child tests positive for COVID-19 to help assist with contact tracing and alerting those exposed to help slow the spread, Johnson said.