NJ schools to start reporting COVID-19 data
New Jersey officials have expressed satisfaction with what they see as the relatively low number of school-based COVID-19 infections reported so far this year, given previous concerns that outbreaks would increase when children would return to in-person learning last month.
But they also want to get a clearer picture of who and where COVID-19 cases are being diagnosed in classrooms across the state. And they are eager to know exactly how many people in each school are vaccinated against the coronavirus, which reporters have asked administration officials to clarify.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday that the state Department of Health will order all schools to provide weekly reports containing data on infections among staff and students and on vaccination rates among eligible people, from the end of the month. COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for people 12 years of age and older. Murphy ordered all school workers to be vaccinated by October 18 or tested at least once a week, and he demanded that everyone, including children of all ages, wear masks in buildings school.
“It’s inevitable that as we live more of our lives indoors, this (virus) will reappear,” Murphy said at Wednesday’s pandemic briefing.
‘Open for business’, tips and all
Earlier this week, he said New Jersey would be “open for business” during the holidays, but on Wednesday Murphy predicted the state would experience several spikes in new COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions in the provinces. months to come, despite a larger downward trend in pandemic measures overall.
The number of school-based outbreaks has doubled since last week to 69, Murphy noted. But he said he was satisfied that fewer than 400 students and staff had been diagnosed with COVID-19 since schools reopened in September. There are some 1.3 million children in New Jersey public schools and 130,000 teachers, as well as administrators and support staff.
The current school epidemic numbers are “well within the range of any acceptable outcome at the moment in schools,” Murphy said. “We pray for all who are sick – more than zero is too much – but it is a reasonable place at this point.”
Dr Ed Lifshitz, who heads the state’s communicable disease department, agreed that “the school numbers look good” at this point and that there have been few outbreaks on college campuses. “We are really too early to give definitive trends now, as the school year has just started,” he said, “but overall it is relatively reassuring.”
COVID-19 outside the classroom
That said, the school epidemic figures do not include children who contract COVID-19 from classmates, teammates, or adults during activities that take place outside the classroom. class. Children who are infected but asymptomatic will also not be counted, Murphy noted.
The Toms River Regional School System, which publishes pandemic data on its website, currently has more than 300 active infections among students and staff – and nearly 600 are under quarantine. But because the infections were not linked to the schools themselves, these people are not included in the school tally on the state dashboard, indicating that Ocean County has a school-based outbreak with five cases.
Overall, the impact of the pandemic has receded slightly in New Jersey, with state data showing a slow overall decline since mid-September in the number of new COVID-19 cases, despite spikes and drops. daily troughs. The number of hospitalizations has also fluctuated recently, but state health officials said they were down 16% overall in the past two weeks.
But state health commissioner Judy Persichilli also warned that increases in that data are expected in the weeks and months to come, but not to levels that would strain public health resources. The DOH runs computer predictive models every two weeks, she said, which analyze data related to cases, hospitalization, vaccine use, public health policies and other metrics. .
“Right now, we’re expecting a slight increase (in these metrics) and we expect it to happen after Thanksgiving, between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Persichilli said. “But we expect it to be in a range where the capacity can be managed very well by our hospitals. “
DOH officials receive daily updates on COVID-19 diagnoses from a network of labs across the state and collect hospital data every 24 hours with help from the New Jersey Hospital Association. Assessing the situation in schools seems more difficult.
Streamlining COVID-19 Updates
While some schools have started reporting COVID-19 cases directly to DOH, most classroom-related data is passed on to state officials by local health authorities; schools should alert them when they detect an infection among students or staff. Under the new directive, Persichilli said schools will have to submit weekly updates with COVID-19 test results directly to the department’s communicable disease surveillance system, starting October 26.
Persichilli said these reports must include all test data collected, whether the screening is done by the school itself, an external provider, or some of the information shared by a parent or staff member. School officials will also need to provide weekly updates on immunization levels among eligible staff and students, she said. These weekly reports do not replace the responsibility of schools to report cases to local health authorities, she noted.
“The (health) department will collect the information, analyze it for trends and share it globally on our (public data) dashboard,” Persichilli said in Wednesday’s briefing. “Layered strategies of testing, immunization for eligible people, masking, physical distancing, hand washing and staying home when sick are the best tools to keep our schools and our communities safe. communities for in-person activities. ”