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NYS’s new 'COVID Report Card' for schools causes confusion

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: September 25, 2020 05:06 PM
Created: September 25, 2020 04:57 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — We’ve now seen confirmed cases of COVID-19 at a number of local schools. Superintendents say they’re trying to be as transparent as possible with families about how they’re handling these cases, but a new state website promising similar transparency seems to be causing confusion.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been pushing parents to use the new “School Report Card” state website that lists every school district and breaks down, by school, how many students, teachers and staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

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“I'll provide the information but they're (parents) going to have to look at it and they're going to have to respond... it's about transparency and it's about having the facts,” the governor said at a press conference this week.  

The problem? The facts aren’t totally factual according to some local school districts.

In a tweet Friday morning, The Pittsford Central School District told parents, “NYS incorrectly reported a positive COVID-19 case at Calkins Road Middle School on its new COVID-19 Report Card website. Because this site is new, it seems NYS is working out some software issues as there have been errors posted across the state.”

The website also shows that the Hilton School District has six positive cases, four students and two teachers. Parents have been calling News10NBC wondering why the district never notified them.  A spokeswoman for the district says those cases happened before school even started and the students and teachers were never on campus.

Other local districts show positives, or more positives than previously disclosed too…so what’s going on? Why the discrepancies?  

First, NYS is now getting data not just from schools but from the laboratories that are processing COVID-19 tests. Thursday, the site was updated for the first time with that lab data and it was retroactive to Sept. 1. So, while some of the cases might look new, they are actually from before school even started.  

Second, the lab reported positives include those who reside within the area served by the school district, but that doesn’t mean a student actually attends a school in that district. He or she could go to a private school or be home-schooled, but their test is still reported through the district in which they live.

In a statement, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Health told News10NBC, “The Department recognizes the unprecedented challenges school districts are facing in response to this pandemic, but also how important this information is for families and for public health officials who use it to identify trends to plan a response.  We are committed to working with our partners at all levels of education to ensure accurate and timely data input, and most of all to continue to ensure the health and well-being for students, faculty, staff, their families and communities.”

As the Monroe County Public Health Commissioner has told the community before, it’s less about the numbers themselves that are posted on the website and more about the context.

“The difficulty with the dashboard is that the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The example I use is if we reported a 10 one day but in those 10 cases were able to identify all the contacts for them, that would be much more reassuring than a 1 where we were not able to identify any of the contacts.  So, more than the numbers themselves will be the story that we tell and that story will always be better if people wear their mask,” Dr. Michael Mendoza has told News10NBC. 

The dashboard will now be updated every 24 hours.


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