Week of 8/16: Close Contacts

This week just over 25% of US K-12 students return to school, bringing the cumulative total to 62%.

This week just over 25% of US K-12 students return to school, bringing the cumulative total to 62%.



1) A few data points to start this week's report:  


Below is a visual of Virtual offerings for the Top 200 districts in the US.   In some states there are state-run virtual academies in addition to district-level offerings.  Currently 133 districts (blue plus yellow) are offering district level academies.   

Below is a chart showing mask mandates for the Top 200 districts.   Where a district has a mask rule that conflicts with state laws or orders, we are categorizing it according to district policy. For example, Dallas ISD has a mask mandate in contravention of Texas state regulations and we have it in the "red" category.  

1) As the school year begins across the US, we are seeing a handful of districts push back start states and individual schools or grades 'go-virtual' due to quarantining. 
  • Pittsburgh, PA pushed the school start date back two weeks. to September 8th.  "The shift of our start date will provide the time necessary for the transportation strategies we have put in place to take hold . ..  We are also listening to the concerns raised by our staff related to the impact traditionally high temperatures in August have on our facilities now coupled with the use of masks," reads the note from the Superintendent. 
  • On August 10th Scott County, IN school district announced the district will be virtual until at least August 23rd due to rising Covid 19 rates and the number of students in quarantine.
  • The Helmsburg, IN elementary school closed for several days as over 20% of students and staff either had Covid 19 or were deemed close contacts for quarantine.
  • Ware County School District, GA "will temporarily cease daily operations for traditional and digital students and most staff members through Friday, August 27, 2021" due to rising Covid 19 cases.
  • Glascock County, GA schools are closed from last week through August 23rd after quarantining 99 students and 11 staff through their first week. It is a 600 student district.
The absolute number of quarantine and Covid 19 figures can be quite large, but it's worth noting many of the county-sized districts reporting are quite large as well.   
  • Hillsborough County, FL schools  report 4,477 students (2.15% out of enrollment of over 200,000) and 289 staff (1.22%) in quarantine due to a positive Covid 19 case or exposure at the end of last week. 
  • Gwinnett County, GA, "confirmed + probable" Covid 19 cases rose from 287 students on August 6th to 625 by August 13th.  Gwinnett schools have approximately 180,000 students.  Only 830 students have been deemed close contacts for those cases.  
  • This media report highlights over 400 students in quarantine in Palm Beach County, FL schools, with 188 student cases out of 167,000+ students. 
2)  Mandatory vaccination policies for school staff began to expand this week as vaccination joins testing, quarantining, and masking policies as being key levers in Covid 19 mitigation strategies.
3)  As districts start the year more broadly it is worth spending a minute on the effect of policies on masking and quarantining.     
  • In a critical part of its guidance, the CDC definition of close contact "excludes students who were within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student (laboratory-confirmed or a clinically compatible illness) if both the infected student and the exposed student(s) correctly and consistently wore well-fitting masks the entire time." States that have adopted this policy for quarantine rules, even if they offer flexibility around masks for local districts, create a powerful incentive for local districts to adopt mask mandates.
  • For example, this note from a Superintendent in Greater Clark County, IN details the mechanics of quarantines and masks and the scenario described applies in many states. Indiana allows local control of mask policies but quarantine guidance is much stricter if masks are not worn by exposed individuals.   In this district 70 cases triggered over 1,100 quarantines and they are instituting mandatory masking in response.
  • We are seeing this in other districts in Indiana as well.  Wayne Township, IN quarantined 461 students off 37 Covid 19 cases and is now instituting a mask mandate.
  • The State of Ohio has issued quarantine guidelines  that exempt exposed individuals from quarantine as long as everyone involved was wearing masks. In Ohio districts have flexibility around mandating masks.    Last week we noted  Utah with similar guidance.   This week just over three-fourths of Ohio K-12 students start school.  These rules create a similar dynamic to that outlined in Indiana, above, in that there may be disparities in learning disruptions between districts depending on policies.   In a further example, last week we linked to this story out of Arkansas where the Superintendent cited an almost twenty-fold difference in quarantine levels depending on whether students wore masks.  
  • Conversely, states such as Texas (noted last week) and Florida have less prescriptive policies around contact tracing and quarantining for districts to follow.  
4)  Mask policies continued to fluctuate amidst legal challenges.  With recent changes on our  State Mask Policy Tracker we now see over 30% of US K-12 students living in states where masks are required and 45% in states where districts have flexibility.   

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