The Patriot Press recorded the number of COVID-19-related absences at Liberty High school along with the school’s active confirmed cases the district reported on the dashboard throughout November. This was in an effort to explain the patterns seen between the two sets of data that are available to us. We feel this information was valuable to gather and then share as the trends are indicators of the complexity that is the district’s reporting of COVID-19 cases and quarantines within the district. The complexity is backed by many factors that lead to conflicting numbers being reported by the district. There is no pinpointing where the discrepancies of numbers occur exactly since the only proof of active confirmed cases is available through the district’s dashboard. However, Liberty’s COVID-19-related absence numbers have led The Patriot Press to analyze patterns between the two data sets that are useful in understanding possibly why the numbers largely differ and at what periods of time this is noticeable.
You may notice that the number of cases that are reported by the Olentangy Schools Covid-19 Dashboard, and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), are consistently different; this is because they are. The two websites collect data from different days, so no two updates will ever look the same. The ODH updates their website every Thursday at 2 p.m. and the case count is gathered from the previous Sunday. OLSD started updating their dashboard every Monday and Friday on Nov. 30 but for the purposes of our data, the website was updated every Friday at noon that we were in school with the numbers from that morning. ABC6 News clarified that active cases are removed from the count after 14 days, which means that cases could become inactive between the days that each website is updated.
Therefore, all of the differences in case numbers can be chalked up to different reporting schedules, until you factor in the attendance sheets. Each day, Olentangy Liberty teachers are sent a list of students that are absent from school that day, with several codes to designate the reason for their absence. We collected attendance lists from the beginning of the year and charted the “COVID-Related Absences” and “Personal Illness” alongside the School District’s “Active Cases” and “Self-Quarantining” reports. We decided to focus on the absences and active cases from November because during this month we collected the most data that showcases the patterns seen consistently.
The key metrics to watch here are the blue and yellow lines. Ideally they would represent very similar data, the yellow being the number of students out for COVID-19 reasons that is given to the teachers, and the blue being the number of students absent for COVID-19 reasons that is reported to the public. But as you can see, there is a stark contrast between the numbers that the general public sees and the numbers that the school collects, with some days showing double the amount of cases as publicly reported. It is notable to mention that the process of reporting COVID-19 active and probable cases is one that is built and explained step-by-step, and therefore we have sought, first, to understand why the numbers on the attendance sheets and the dashboard are monumentally different. Krista Davis, Olentangy’s Chief Communications Officer, responded with the main reason there is a disconnect between the two data sets, coming down to when the district updates COVID-19 cases and where the district gets their information from.
The active confirmed cases “are almost like a snapshot in time… If you’re looking at the absences today and you look at the absences and our COVID dashboard, the dashboard is a culmination of information from Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and then today’s absences are completely different from what you’re seeing on the dashboard,” said Davis. Also, the district receives their case numbers from the Delaware Public Health District (DPHD), which means the numbers will never be the same because there tends to be a delay in when the district is notified of cases and quarantines.
Attendance is of course taken daily, and basically a faster (with less data points) version of the dashboard. If someone decides to quarantine because of direct exposure to someone who tested positive for the virus, they are marked as a COVID-19 related absence the next day they would have attended school; this is information the DPHD might not know until days after the school is aware. “And so I may not be sending that letter until Wednesday even though you may have stayed home Monday,” confirmed Davis.
The COVID-19-related absences remain a valuable source to gauge the amount of cases school’s have on any given day. There may not be different codes within those absences to indicate how many students have tested positive or how many are quarantined, yet this is data that can be accessed daily and compared to where the cases and quarantines were the last time the district updated the dashboard.
Other trends to note:
The COVID-related absences take an almost vertical jump right before the week of Thanksgiving break, a spike that could be the reason behind those two virtual learning days on Monday and Tuesday. Those cases also take a massive dive over the 10-day break, which could mean two things. The first, that exposure at school causes more cases than we thought, and additional time away from in-person classes would mitigate the spread. And second, that students and families took Mike DeWine’s new lockdown rules seriously, staying away from Thanksgiving gatherings and obeying curfews.