Tennessee officials finalizing plan to release school COVID-19 data

DeSoto County Schools preps for virtual learning

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - How will schools keep students safe during outbreaks? What information will be released to the public about those outbreaks?

Those are two questions state officials are working to answer.

Millington Schools Superintendent Bo Griffin says many measures are in place to keep students, teachers and staff safe.

"They know that they have a six-foot rule and they have to wear their masks constantly," said Griffin.

But no matter how much schools prepare, health experts like infectious disease specialist Dr. Steve Threlkeld with Baptist Memorial Hospital say cases are going to happen.

"If you do all those things you are still going to have quite a few cases. It doesn't matter," said Threlkeld. "Now, you may have fewer than you would have and I certainly applaud those efforts, but you're going to have to have a way to control the failure."

Shelby County COVID-19 case county decreasing

The Tennessee Department of Education sent districts guidance on how to handle outbreaks in their schools.

It starts with administrators answering questions about the person or persons with COVID-19 and their interaction with others.

Each answer they provide leads to different recommendations, like closing certain classrooms for 24 hours, or in the case of a growing outbreak closing hallways or an entire building for 14 days.

But how much information will schools actually release to the public about outbreaks?

Some districts have already released information about outbreaks in their schools, but there’s no statewide guideline or requirement to do so.

Right now, the state only shares information about cases among school-age children at the county level.

Those latest numbers show 2,082 children between ages 5 and 18 in Shelby County have been infected.

Beyond this, the state initially said it wouldn’t ask districts to release information to the public about cases in their schools, citing privacy laws.

But last week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said transparency was important and the state is now working on a plan to publicly report school outbreaks.

Gov. Bill Lee discusses schools and COVID-19 in Tennessee (Aug. 4)

"We're working on a plan to in fact be able to report school cases," said Lee. "We do want to protect the individual privacy of families and students."

Tennessee's health commissioner, Dr. Lisa Piercey, called discussions over public reporting of school coronavirus cases "a hot topic of discussion" among state health and education leaders.

Piercey and the governor said they anticipate the public reporting guidelines to be released this week.

Victoria Robinson, director of media for the Tennessee Department of Education, told WMC Monday that state officials were still working on the issue.

“We are working closely with Gov. Lee and the Department of Health to finalize a plan for sharing information on COVID-19 with school communities,” said Robinson. “Federal law requires privacy protections for individuals who test positive, but the state intends to be transparent so that parents, teachers, families, and communities have access to clear information. We will be releasing a plan on how to share information soon.”

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