CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - As schools prepare to make decisions on the future of in-person learning, new data from the Virginia Department of Health could help administrators and school boards.
Every school district in our area has some indicators that are in the lowest risk tier, and some in the higher risk - but what can those numbers tell us?
“We’re hoping that it can help inform those conversations which we acknowledge are complicated and difficult,” said Dr. Laurie Forlano, the VDH deputy commissioner for population health.
The new VDH web page shows three core indicators of risk.
“Two of those three are indicators that look at the kind of trends of disease and how COVID-19 might be spreading,” Forlano said. Those indicators are new cases per 100,000 people and percent of PCR tests that are positive, both measures over the last 14 days.
The last indicator is how well a school is prepared to implement safety measures, like face mask policies, symptom checks, and isolation procedures.
“They really need to consider all three of those things together, and then what they can do is align that with the Virginia guidance,” Forlano said.
Louisa County Public Schools are back in-person although they are at higher risk based on new COVID cases. Ryan McKay, the senior data analyst with the Thomas Jefferson Health District says schools can still operate if they have these strategies in place.
“Even, I think, the highest risk would still allow school to open in-person as long as the strategies are there and we understand what’s behind that highest risk in terms of numbers," McKay said.
That context is important. For example, Fluvanna County is at highest risk in cases and higher risk in testing. But that could be because of an outbreak, like the one at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.
If we were to have a conversation with Fluvanna about reopening schools, and they saw that information, we could provide the context to it and say ‘well, we can point directly towards what’s happening in the facility’," McKay said.
Every city and county in our area is either in the higher or highest risk level for new cases. As for testing positivity, the numbers vary. McKay says the data is complicated, and it alone cannot tell a school board what to do.
“It doesn’t make the decision for us, and then we have to take a lot of other things into consideration before a decision is made,” he said.
The maps and data the Virginia Department of Health has published, which break down how localities are doing on these key metrics, are below.