At first glance, the latest iteration of the state’s COVID-19 case tracker for Texas public schools may be cause for alarm.
The number of cases in a dozen larger districts in the area, including the ISDs of Lewisville, Frisco, Birdville, Richardson and Denton, increased by more than 100 student cases last week, according to Friday’s update.
In isolation, this increase would be significant. That’s not the whole story, though.
School closures on Labor Day coincided with the deadline to report weekly on the state. As a result, 83% of the area’s 205 public school districts and charter operators reported no staffing or student cases for the week ending Sept. 5.
According to Chris Van Deusen, director of media relations for the State Department of Health Services, Chris Van Deusen should include all unreported cases from that period in this week’s report.
These types of peculiarities, combined with the one-week information delay of the DSHS board, highlight the difference in utility between state data and local COVID-19 followers regularly updated by school districts.
For example, Frisco ISD backs each case to its local locator until the first onset of symptoms and then provides a seven-day rotating average of the total count.
“It helps us get a better idea of what’s going on, unlike state data,” Frisco ISD spokeswoman Meghan Cone said.
State officials stress that DSHS data should be used as a historical reference to provide broad trends, not as a current snapshot of conditions in local schools.
“If parents are looking for something that tells them what’s happening in real time, that’s not where they should be looking,” Frank Ward, a spokesman for the Texas Education Agency, said of the DSHS data. “Invariably, we will be a little late in registering and reflecting cases.”
That said, some of the data schools believe they report to the state does not appear in the official DSHS count.
As of Friday, Dallas ISD, the largest school district in the area, with 143,000 students, reported 1,274 cases of COVID-19 among staff and students through September on its district scorecard.
But in the last two reporting periods, it is difficult to see these figures fully reflected in the state data.
The state count of new Dallas cases shows only 22 COVID-19 infections during these two two-week periods. However, the district as a whole seems to account for the cases, increasing 1,076 cases in this period.
Therefore, Dallas cases are reflected in the state’s cumulative totals (which topped 150,000 last week), but not in the weekly count, which was already skewed by Labor Day holidays.
DISD Health Services Director Jennifer Finley said the district routinely “duplicates and controls” everything from the district’s public control panel. He added that the district sends the same data it puts on its tracker to the state.
“I don’t know why the state data doesn’t match,” he said. “The state board, to me, is a little confusing.”
DSHS spokeswoman Lara Anton said the issue is likely to be related to the calendar. If districts miss the deadline to report data for a seven-day period, it would add to that district’s cumulative counts, he said.
“We have heard that some school districts have difficulty entering data in a timely manner due to the large number [of] cases in their district, “Anton said.” We have recommended that they send reports daily instead of waiting until Monday’s deadline. “
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