How many COVID cases are tied to schools? Errors in data make it hard to tell

Vandalia-Butler, Alter High School, Centerville, Franklin and Bishop Leibold were also among schools that had

Vandalia-Butler, Alter High School, Centerville, Franklin and Bishop Leibold were also among schools that had new COVID cases listed in the state dashboard last Thursday, but somehow saw their cumulative number go down from the previous week or stay the same.

Ohio Department of Health officials looked at multiple discrepancies raised by the Dayton Daily News, and confirmed that the data posted on their website Thursday “is what has been reported by the local health departments.”

Dan Suffoletto, spokesman for Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County, said the agency’s staff is working on the problem with ODH.

“There is a problem with the way the cumulative totals are adding up in the spreadsheet,” he said. “We anticipate the numbers will update correctly on Thursday.”

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Officials with the Warren County Health District acknowledged the ODH dashboard numbers for Franklin schools were wrong last Thursday, saying it appeared to be a transcription error in the final document. They said Franklin should have been listed with one new student case and no new staff cases in the Oct. 15 release, rather than three and one, respectively.

“We do not have any way of correcting those after it is on the ODH website until the next reporting week,” said Dustin Ratliff, sanitarian supervisor, planning and analytics for the Warren County Health District.

The Oct. 15 state dashboard also lists Fairborn with 10 new student cases from the previous week, but only nine cumulative, total student cases from the entire five-week period. Greenon and Northeastern schools in Clark County were also listed with more student cases in the most recent week than in the cumulative reporting period.

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Dee Owsley, communicable disease nurse for Greene County Public Health, also suggested there may have been a spreadsheet error. She said Fairborn should have shown 10 new student cases and 13 cumulative student cases. She said the nine cumulative student cases on the state site should have been in the column for new staff cases.

How are school cases counted?

A statewide order issued in early September says schools have to contact their county health department within 24 hours of being notified of a COVID-19 case in a student or school employee. County health departments then report that data to ODH, which releases updated statistics each Thursday.

But issues with the data have existed from the beginning. Some cases didn’t show up in the state dashboard until two or three weeks after schools notified parents, as happened at St. Charles in Kettering.

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In the Oct. 8 ODH report, Beavercreek schools were shown with seven total student COVID cases and two total staff cases. The next week, even though no new cases were listed, the totals had gone up to 10 students and three staff, indicating that some previous cases were reported after the fact and never listed as “new.”

Last month, Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County acknowledged some data lag issues, citing a backlog of work and aging technology.

Centerville schools is a good example of the confusion over which data is reported and when. As of Monday morning, Centerville schools said on their website that the district has had 34 positive COVID cases. The state dashboard lists them with two cases.

There are at least three reasons for the difference. Centerville has been counting since Aug. 17, while the state dashboard only dates back to Sept. 7. Centerville’s data includes 14 new cases the week of Oct. 12-16, which wouldn’t show up in state data until this coming Thursday. And Centerville is including cases of fully remote students and staff, while the state dashboard does not included those cases.

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