Delaware tweaks school reopening criteria

The metric for reopening schools shifted slightly this week, with the overall goal remaining focused on getting as many students into in-person learning as possible, officials said Tuesday.

The state’s criteria for reopening schools is grounded in three data points: the new cases rate per 100,000 people, the average daily hospitalizations and the percentage of tests that are positive.

Rather than use the metric of the percentage of people who have tested positive, the state is now tracking the percent of positive tests.

The state has started to display the number of people tested as well as the number of tests administered, as those numbers differ because people are tested more than once. Since March, 343,141 people have been tested but there have been 542,722 tests administered.

The case rates for schools criteria were also adjusted.

Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said the changes are to align with federal and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

“For us, it was important that not only it aligns with federal guidance, but also that we feel it best reflects levels of community spread,” Dr. Rattay said. “Since we did update our percent-positive measure to be test-based, we are now going to be using that metric. But we also then adjusted the threshold values.”

As of right now, the state is in the “yellow phase” meaning that there is a minimal-to-moderate spread of COVID-19 and schools can only open in a hybrid model, which is a mixture of remote and in-person instruction. All three data points are in the yellow phase.

With the metrics change, the yellow phase means figures show a COVID-19 new case rate between five and 100 per 100,000; percentage of positive tests between 1% and 8%; and between 10 to 25 people hospitalized daily per 100,000 people.

Previous reports used a different threshold, but ultimately that doesn’t change where the data falls currently in reopening scenarios.

“We’re still all in yellow, which, if we hadn’t made the changes, we’d still be all in yellow,” Dr. Rattay said.

Though these are the key data points, Gov. John Carney acknowledged that there is far more context needed to determine where schools fall in reopening to more students, or closing down again.

For instance, an outbreak at a nursing home — which ultimately doesn’t overlap that much with school-age children — could increase data points but not have a significant bearing on school operations.

That said, mask wearing and social distancing are still a part of the future for schools.

“Schools only have so much space to accommodate that,” Gov. Carney said. “So we know it’s got to be this back and forth, supportive relationship between public health and our data, and the circumstances on the ground and the school districts and decision makers with respect to what level they need to be in school or not.”

The state has also added more information and data as it pertains to school reopening, showing the percent change in data as well as looking at data by county.

Delaware is currently trending toward “red” in its new case rate, but other data is trending more positively.

Since Gov. Carney first OK’d hybrid learning — and left it up to school leadership to decide what they’d do — districts began rolling out learning plans in August. Decisions continue to be made in October, with some districts holding off on more in-person learning and other opting to bring more students back.

The more localized data will help with those individual decisions, Gov. Carney said.

“Districts are making those decisions on an individual district-by-district basis,” Gov. Carney said.

“We continue to believe that that’s the way to do it, as long as folks are really going after that overall objective, which is to present the best educational experience for all their children, and every child is a little bit different depending on where they are in school and depending on the learning challenges that they have, and every teacher and educator situation is a little bit different.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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