Some parents and school leaders question COVID case reporting

VIDEO: Some parents and school leaders question COVID case reporting

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Some parents and private school leaders say they are struggling to trust how positive cases of the coronavirus in classrooms are being reported.

Instead, they question what they view as inconsistencies in what information is being released publicly.

Ultimately though, the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s data is only as accurate as the information provided to the department by those who have tested positive.

“It bothers me because it bothers parents. It causes confusion and it causes some parents to be very, very concerned unnecessarily,” said Niki Howard, the director of Pawleys Island Christian Academy.

The school had less than five faculty members test positive for COVID in August before classes ever began. However, those cases have been included in DHEC’s reporting and are still visible on the department’s dashboard months later.

“We did everything right, everything we were supposed to do,” Howard said. “But now, because we had those cases reported even though it was before the school year even began for us, we are going to be on that map all school year. It’s going to look like we have ongoing cases. So, they’re updating, in that they are adding new cases. But they aren’t taking any cases off of that map.”

DHEC’s reporting dashboard shows cumulative cases and cases which have been confirmed within the last 30 days. Department officials said they’ve been working to make these distinctions clearer since last month.

“It’s very frustrating to us because we have been very honest and very up front with our parents when we did have staff members test positive, and we’ve gone above and beyond what was requested of us to make sure our children remain safe. But these reports cast an ere of suspicion in parents’ minds,” Howard said. “It makes people concerned maybe we aren’t being honest, and that’s not how we do business, and it’s really frustrating to us that that’s the impression DHEC is causing people to have about us.”

Some parents also want to see schools notify them directly about positive cases in their child’s classroom, even if there was no close contact.

“Basically, if we want to find out if there are any cases of COVID at the school, we have to go to these two websites to find that information, which felt a little weird that we have to kind of jump through a hoop to find out something that’s so critical as there’s a potentially lethal disease going around the school,” Chris Brown said.

Brown recently struggled with the decision to move his kids back to face to face instruction in Berkeley County’s Daniel Island School because the numbers he found on DHEC’s dashboard and the school district’s dashboard were not the same.

“Going to the websites we found the information wasn’t consistent. On one, it lags. On another, it’s supposed to be real time. But it didn’t match up,” Brown said.

Brown created a petition to urge the Daniel Island School to notify all parents via email or robocall about any positive cases within eight hours of discovery and to continue this policy through the end of the school year.

“Why can’t they just call us? Give us a notice there was a case of COVID,” Brown questioned. “Then we, as parents, can come back and talk to our kids that night and say there’s a case at school…why don’t you wear your mask tomorrow and make sure it stays on. Keep away from other kids. Just keep it cool for a while until things settle down. And by being proactive on their case by contacting us, we can be proactive to our children and in turn they can be proactive to helping the teachers and other children.”

In recent weeks, the Berkeley County school district updated its dashboard to report COVID cases in real time, and officials say the upgrade is an effort to be more transparent. However, informing all parents about a positive COVID case isn’t as simple as sending out a mass message to anyone affiliated with a certain school.

“The director of nursing is the one contact who is getting all of the confirmed information. So, the COVID dashboard is really an effort to ensure that we are releasing timely and accurate information,” district spokesperson Katie Tanner said. “As information filters down the farther it filters down the more likely things can be confused, or information can be something that everyone doesn’t know as much about personally or directly.”

However, the accuracy of those numbers relies on parents and faculty reporting when a child, teacher or school staff member tests positive.

According to DHEC’s own methodology, to be included in the department’s data analysis the cases must have reported that they attended school in-person during their infectious period, they must have reported that they are a student or employee, and a school name must be provided.

If the patient or parent responded “no” to any of those survey questions, they are not included in those numbers.

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