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New state dashboard tracks COVID cases in schools

By staff and wire reports

Alabama public schools reported 723 cases of COVID-19 among students, teachers and employees in the last week, according to a new state dashboard that debuted Friday.

It shows the number of cases reported by school systems to the state, but not numbers by individual schools. Some school systems are providing that information on their own sites. The dashboard does not include private schools.

The Alabama Department of Public Health and the Alabama State Department of Education collaborated on the tool intended to provide parents with weekly information about the state of the virus outbreak in school systems. The numbers are self-reported by school systems. Not all school systems reported cases.

Troy City Schools indicates “unreported” on the dashboard, but the district’s self-report total included 50 quarantined students, with four positive cases, and eight quarantined staff members, with six positive cases. Those included  40 students at CHHS quarantined, with three confirmed positive; two at CHMS quarantined; and eight at TES quarantined, with one confirmed positive. The district also reported a total of eight staff members quarantined: four at CHHS, with three positive; one at CHMS, and three at TES, all positive.

Pike County Schools also were “unreported” on the dashboard. The district’s last update was for Oct. 20 and included 22 students quarantined, with five positive cases, and six staff with two confirmed cases. The student reports included six quarantined and one positive at PCES; five quarantined with two positive at GES; none at PCHS; seven quarantined with one positive at GHS; and four quarantined with one positive at Banks. Among staff, the report included two quarantined at PCHS; one at PCHS; one at GHS; one quarantined and one positive at Banks; and one other staff member quarantined and positive.

State Health Officer Scott Harris said the tool can help parents track the state of the pandemic in their child’s school system.

Asked if the 723 was higher or lower than what they anticipated, Harris said age ranges of COVID-19 patients had given an indication of the number of K-12 students being infected.

“As the school year progresses we will know more about what this number means and if it is a low week or a high week,” Harris said. “We just need a little more context.”

Four large school systems — Blount, Jefferson, Shelby and Tuscaloosa County school districts — reported 35 or more cases for the week.

Since the pandemic began, nearly 200,000 Alabamians have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and almost 3,000 people in the state have died after contracting the virus, according to state numbers.

Children 17 and younger have accounted for about 10% of the state’s COVID-19 cases although few deaths in children have been reported.

The state has seen a steady climb in virus cases and this week the number of people who were hospitalized climbed above 1,000 for the first time since Aug. 31. While worsening, the total is much lower than in July, when around 1,600 people were treated daily in hospitals after a surge of cases that health officials believe was linked to the Fourth of July holiday.

The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but it can be deadly for the elderly and people with other, serious health problems.