Why Metro Denver Parents Won't Know About Most COVID Cases at Their Kid's School | Westword


Why Denver-Area Parents Won't Know About Most COVID Cases at Their Kid's School

The changes appear to be statewide.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
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In July, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced that outbreaks of COVID-19 at the state's K-12 schools would no longer be added to its publicly accessible list of facilities under the CDPHE's supervision. Instead, the department said it would rely on the institutions themselves to inform parents, students, staffers and so on when the disease is spreading, much as they might if cases of the flu are circulating.

School districts appear to have removed themselves from the process of sharing information about COVID-19 cases, too, though. For instance, the Douglas County School District, whose COVID-19 tracking webpage was easily among the best in the state, has been taken offline. In confirming that this service is no longer accessible, DCSD spokesperson Paula Hans says, "I have yet to find a Colorado metro area school district that is still using a COVID tracker."

She's right. Westword visited the websites of major districts in the metro area as well as selected others across the state and was unable to find an active COVID-19 tracker. An example is the COVID-19 dashboard for Denver Public Schools, which is essentially frozen in time; the figures displayed are from May 27 and accompanied by the following note: "Due to staffing shortages, there may be a delay in updating the dashboard."

That delay is permanent according to Scott Pribble, DPS's director of external communications. In his words, "Our COVID dashboard has been retired."

Such decisions carry an element of risk. In both 2020 and 2021, the number of COVID-19 cases, which had ebbed to varying degrees during the summer months, flared up again as the weather turned colder, with schools among the infection epicenters. During these periods, the COVID trackers maintained by Denver and Douglas County, in particular, provided parents with current and easily accessible information about the progress of the disease across the respective districts.

That Dougco schools would pull the plug on its tracker is the opposite of a surprise. The four members of the Douglas County Board of Education who were elected last November ran on a platform hostile to COVID-19 safety protocols, and in the months that followed, they dumped masking rules, sacked superintendent Corey Wise, who'd defended the protocols, and replaced him with Erin Kane, a vocal anti-masker.

Kane's August 10 email to parents and employees explaining the approach to COVID-19 for the 2022-2023 academic year is on view below. Hans points out that "we are following updated CDPHE guidance and have transitioned to more routine disease response. Individual case investigation, contact tracing and notifications of exposure are no longer recommended in K-12 settings by the CDC or CDPHE."

As for DPS, Pribble stresses that the district "is still reporting individual cases directly to the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment. We are still collaborating with them on any cluster of cases or outbreaks at individual schools and will address each scenario individually as needed."

Unless such a circumstance occurs, DPS parents will be in the dark about COVID-19 cases at their kid's school — and they're not alone.

Continue to read the Douglas County School District's updated policy related to COVID-19.
In an effort to return to a more routine disease response to COVID, the Colorado Department of Public Health (CDPHE) has simplified and aligned previous CDC guidance. In March, CDPHE transitioned to a Routine Disease Response, meaning individual case investigation, contact tracing, and notifications of exposure were no longer recommended in K-12 settings by CDC or CDPHE.

In the coming weeks, CDPHE will release updated guidance that will focus on monitoring for increases in cases and absenteeism, reminding staff, students, and parents to stay home when sick, staying up to date with vaccinations, testing if symptomatic, and isolating if positive for COVID.

As we did long before the pandemic, schools will continue to work closely with school nurses and our local public health agency, The Douglas County Department of Health, when increases in cases and/or outbreaks are detected to determine the best mitigation strategies to control disease transmission and preserve in-person learning.

2022-2023 Guidance for DCSD Schools (PreK-12):

• COVID response will be treated like a routine illness (CDPHE Routine Disease Control).
• If a student is positive for COVID, please enter it into the attendance log, like any other illness.
• Monitor student absences for increased cases of communicable diseases, including COVID, and report to your nurse.
• Staff will not require testing for students or staff to return to school after an illness. DCSD is not monitoring testing or vaccination status for students or staff.
• The state and local health departments ask that people voluntarily cooperate with isolation and quarantine instructions — school staff are not required to monitor or enforce.
• There is no requirement for staff or students who have been exposed to COVID to stay home and quarantine. However, if they are symptomatic it should be treated like a routine illness (see above).
• DCSD employees will still have access to their current Public Health Emergency Leave (PHEL) balance.... More information can also be found in the Employee Guide.

Douglas County School District will continue with the following illness mitigation measures: air purifiers, ventilation, hand washing, and routine cleaning procedures in schools.

To learn more about COVID-19 and symptoms, click here.
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