State to state, COVID-19 school response policies vary greatly, especially during the current Omicron variant wave. Some school districts are requiring students to provide a negative test result before entering the classroom after break, while others are temporarily holding classes remotely. Many school systems are facing staff shortages due to illness or quarantine rules. They are overwhelmed with tracking cases and close contacts. The pandemic has raged on for almost two years, but schools are still struggling with sorting through the large amount of COVID-19 related data which has ultimately led to interruptions in learning as well as social stresses.
In September 2021, New York City’s Department of Education health screening website experienced an outage, causing major disruption to the nation’s largest school district on its first day of school. The health screening site is used for all students, staff, and visitors to sign in daily before they can enter a city school building. With the site down, lines formed outside the building as staff scrambled to print paper forms and hand them out for people to fill out before entering. In response to the technical problems, the mayor said the system had been overloaded due to so many people accessing it.
In December 2021, the NYC DOE situation room that was put in place to track COVID-19 cases fell greatly behind. Close contacts were not being identified in a timely manner and without a successful way to track the cases, whole classrooms and even schools were shut as a precaution. It was starting to feel like the beginning of the pandemic all over again. The city has since updated its COVID safety policy to the test-to-stay program for students in grades K-12 as of January 3, 2022, eliminating quarantines for close contacts. These students will instead be given in-home rapid tests if a member of their classroom tests positive and can only return if they report a negative result, although no proof is required. However, any 3-K or preK student who was in close proximity to a positive case will still have to quarantine for 10 days.
Another approach taken by our nation’s second largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, as well as many other was baseline testing for students before they returned to the classroom after the winter break. This idea left many students waiting in long lines with their parents on one of the last days of their break. In some cities, like Milwaukee, schools have extended their winter breaks as a precaution and have moved to virtual instruction because of rising cases among staff members. We have seen that this form of instruction is often not ideal, and societal inequities such as those due to limited access to technology can lead to learning loss.
No matter the health safety plan chosen, we are still seeing schools struggle with keeping track of cases, close contacts, and vaccination status. Understaffed schools and antiquated paper-based systems are not suitable for the upkeep of data. In a Washington state school, there is one nurse for 2,500 students, making it extremely difficult to do any real contact tracing. Staff at many schools are reviewing a multitude of paper vaccine cards and manually entering the data into spreadsheets. In Cobb County, Georgia’s second largest school district, they are doing away with the added safety measure of contact tracing altogether, using the fact that it is time-consuming for staff as one of the reasons. It would benefit all schools to digitize their information, making it easy to sort and access it when needed. Area entry management would keep everyone safe by assigning virtual badges to students and staff based on their health status. Partnering with labs could automate the testing process, rather than relying on an honor system of people self-reporting and sometimes not being required to show any proof.
Safety iPass is CrisisGo’s solution for returning to learning safely during the pandemic. Even with a small staff, schools can easily manage health screenings, current cases, close contacts, and vaccination statuses because the information is digital. Actionable reports can be generated with the touch of a button. CrisisGo has partnered with Achieve Health Management so that after testing is completed, the results are delivered directly into the Safety iPass portal, with assigned ids for staff and students. Close contact lists are generated based on roster information, and emails can instantly be sent to these individuals with information regarding necessary quarantines or testing requirements, depending on the district’s rules. Being powered by Amazon Web Services, Safety iPass makes technical problems avoidable and users should not expect any system overloads as NYC schools experienced on the first day of school this year.
Nationally, our students and staff are tired and want a return to normalcy. The best we can do is take a smart approach to handling the pandemic by collecting and applying our data in efficient, organized ways. As we try to move on and learn how to navigate COVID-19 life successfully, classroom and whole school shutdowns are still happening due to overwhelmed staff, staff shortages, and the inability to keep track of case data. With Safety iPass’s power to effectively manage any type of school pandemic response, CrisisGo can keep more students learning in person in their classrooms.