But during a media availability Wednesday, Pubic Health Director Sofia Pereira and County Health Officer Ian Hoffman said reporting those data isn’t as straightforward as the petitioners seem to hope.
The petition is, in part, the result of a Facebook group — humboldt school corona virus COVID-19 data — that was started just a few days ago. Families are notified when their children are exposed to a COVID-positive individual at school, but the information is not published anywhere. The purpose of the Facebook group is to create an informal log of COVID cases in local schools based on posts from parents who have been notified of a case.
“We realized that what needs to happen is not a DIY tally,” group member and parent Noël August, also known in the community by her drag persona Tucker Noir, told the Outpost. “It needs to just go on the portal and be updated every week.”
And so, in collaboration with other parents, August launched the petition. It asks for both in-school positive case numbers and exposure numbers to be added to the county’s COVID dashboard.
“Kids can’t self-advocate,” August said. “They’re the only group that has no say, no vote. So as adults, we carry the responsibility to protect them and make sure they make it safely to adulthood.”
Some parents on the Facebook group have pointed to Del Norte Unified School District, which logs school COVID cases in its own dashboard. But that’s not quite the same thing as what the petition is asking for, because DNUSD is publishing the data, not their public health department.
Parents would need to direct their efforts toward specific school districts for a system like that. The Humboldt County Office of Education wouldn’t be able to develop a dashboard, because schools don’t need to tell HCOE when they have a positive case.
Ishan Steelhead, the parent who started the Facebook group, told the Outpost that parents are seeking the information so that they can better understand the risk when choosing whether to send their kids to school, and so that school staff can have more information about the potential risks of going to work, too. He actually got the idea from a teacher, who told him they were surprised that the information isn’t published anywhere.
“It’s just wanting the data and the information to make smart choices,” Steelhead said. “We’re doing this out of a desire for knowledge.”
Steelhead acknowledged that Public Health is totally swamped, but reasoned that the county already has the data signers of the petition are asking for, because schools are required to report positive cases. The petitioners reference SPOT — School and Shared Portal for Outbreak Tracking — a system that some entities use to report cases to their local health departments. The petition argues that all schools use the SPOT system.
But it’s not clear whether all schools actually do use the SPOT system, and if they do, it’s not clear how the data is compiled.
“The other piece is around the reporting through SPOT that is mentioned in the petition. And right now we don’t have a uniform reporting structure where all of that data comes uniform to us within Public Health,” Pereira said Wednesday.
“When you have 31 school districts and over 70 schools, as you can imagine, that is quite a challenge: to try and compile that into the format that’s being requested,” she said.
“I’m not saying that it’s a never, but at this point with the resources that we have, I can’t commit our staff to taking on that endeavor. “
Pereira said that Public Health is working closely with schools to centralizing the case reporting process, because it is important from an outbreak perspective, but that the department does not have the bandwidth to add the information to the dashboard right now.
Public Health is also working with schools by helping them with contact tracing protocol, Hoffman said.
“I encourage every family to work with your individual school because that’s who’s protecting your kids right now,” he said.
Hoffman said that he feels comfortable sending his two kids to in-person school in Humboldt County.
“I want to emphasize that I feel safe sending my kids to school in our county because I know — I’ve worked closely with these educators — I know that they’re following the protocols, they’re doing what they can to keep these kids safe.”
Both noted that they appreciate the petitioner’s concerns.
“I really want to acknowledge I think the core of what that petition is asking. And it is saying that they want their kids to be safe,” Pereira said. “And Public Health, our schools — we want that as well.”