Episode 11: School Opening Decision Matrix
You voiced your questions and concerns about the ASD School Start 2020 plan, and the District heard. Starting this week, ASD will air a twice weekly, pre-recorded Q&A session with a variety of ASD and community member hosts and guests who will take a deep dive into the details of what school will look like this fall. Videos will post by the end of day every Tuesday and Thursday leading up to the start of the school year. Topics will dig into everything from teacher tricks to encourage social distancing among young students (airplane arms!)? to how will my senior be best prepared for post-graduation life during a pandemic?
Send us your questions here! The District wants to hear your thoughts and comments to be considered for inclusion in the interview.
Lisa - Hi and welcome to Airplane Arms, Navigating Back to School. I'm Lisa Miller, a communications specialist with the Anchorage School District. I'm joined today with Jen Patronas, our health services director. Welcome, Jen.
Jennifer - Thank you, thank you for having me.
Lisa - Yeah, so it's a busy week, a big announcement coming with the plan for school to start in buildings again for elementary students and then also self contained special needs students. So we want to kind of dive into, I guess, the evolution of how we got to the matrix that we used to make the decision. We have had a lot of information over the past couple of months, so I wanna walk through that and then take a look at the new CDC indicators that the district largely used to make this call. So if we can step back and let's talk about July. ASD released its school start plan and tell us about that decision matrix and what that entailed.
Jennifer - Well back in June and July, we did not have a whole lot of science to go off of, but we were closely following the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, along with talking to our state health officials almost daily. At that time, the state of Alaska decided to use this risk model that we really just used the number of cases in 14 days per 100,000 people, which is where we got our 14-day rolling average. And for Anchorage, our magic number was 29, which would put us in the high-risk category.
Lisa - And that's what the district was largely tracking. We, you know, the number was up on the website and that was the best information we had at the time. Additionally, let's look back at July, we put together a mitigation plan for ASD buildings. You know, there's staff that are in the buildings year-round. August comes around and we bring back ASD sports and activities to resume practice at that high-risk level. How did the mitigation plans prove to be successful that we had in place for the small select group that was back in the ASD buildings and facilities?
Jennifer - Well as suspected we did have several student athletes and coaches test positive for COVID-19. However, we didn't have any secondary transmissions within our sports community at all. So, it did prove that our mask wearing, our physically distancing and our hand washing procedures were really working.
Lisa – So, in addition to the district seeing that those mitigation plans were working for us, there was new research from the British Medical Journal that showed mitigation factors that we had in place. Like you said, the mandatory face mask protocols did work in fact to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Additionally, just kind of looking back at the summer, there was information that came out from the American Academy of Pediatrics that suggested school districts consider the overall wellbeing of social, emotional learning, mental health and critical services. So, the mitigation plans and the science that evolved over the summer, that was a kind of a combination that would it be safe to say the district was building confidence that they thought they can open school district safely? That's kind of where they were at.
Jennifer - Now we were definitely building confidence that as long as we were following the mitigation plans and really just enforcing mask wearing and forcing physical distancing, reminding our students to wash their hands and have respiratory etiquette that we could potentially open school safely.
Lisa - And then this week new information came up from the CDC. So, September 15th, they released new indicating factors for school districts to consider when opening safely. So that leads us to our next slide. We really want to look over these indicators. There's a lot of new information here. There's a lot of similar numbers that may be confused with that rolling average. So, if you would, can you walk us through each one of these indicators and explain how Anchorage fits into this new metrics that we're looking at?
Jennifer - Absolutely. The new CDC chart has indicators that puts districts into five different categories between lowest and highest risk of transmission. The first number of the core indicators that it wants to look at is the number of new cases per 100,000 within the last 14 days. This is quite different than the 14-day rolling average that we were using because before we were doing the number of cases in 14 days and then dividing that into our number. For this case, you're gonna take the number, the total number of new cases in Anchorage in 14 days, which is around 500 divide that by the number of people in Anchorage, and then multiply that by 100,000. So that puts us in the higher category or that orange category for today. It also wants us to look at the percentage of tests that are positive in the last 14 days and for Anchorage we're in that moderate category at about 5%. It also has us look at the ability to implement five key strategies, which we already had built into our plan. So, this was helpful to see that we were in the right direction. It has the use of masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and respiratory etiquette, and the ability to contact trace within our community. And we met all of those criteria. So, it put us in the lowest category.
Lisa - So, for those three primary core indicators, the first one we're in higher risk, second lower risk. and then the third one is the lowest risk.
Jennifer - We're somewhere in between lower and moderate for the percentage. Cause we're about 5%.
Lisa - Okay. So right on the, between right in between. Okay. And then can you take us through the secondary indicators? That's on the next slide.
Jennifer - Yeah, the secondary indicators. It wants us to look at the percentage of changes within our cases, this, between these seven days and the next seven days and the last seven days. So, for us, we're at negative 22% because we went down quite a bit from the last seven days of how many new cases we had. We also were looking at the percentage of hospital inpatient beds that are being occupied by just anyone. We're about 88%, which puts us in that orange category. We're also looking at the percentage of ICU beds that are occupied, which for today, we're at 68% in the lowest category. And then we're looking at the percentage of hospital beds taken by patients that are COVID positive, both inpatient beds and ICU beds and we're at 4%. So, the lowest. Additionally, we're looking at the existence of localized community outbreak as defined by our local health department. And our health department says we do have some community outbreak and they say yes, and they put us in that moderate or that yellow category. So all of those things combined, the CDC just wants us to use these as an indicator just to know what our risk of transmission is within our community and our schools.
Lisa - So, it seems the new CDC indicators are a much more holistic approach. It's not one number that we're looking at like before, which was the best information we had at the time to make the call. Now it is many different factors.
Jennifer - Yes, it's many different factors, which I think is better because we're not only looking at the risk of transmission in the community, we're also looking at capabilities of our hospital, which I think is very important.
Lisa - And I think the one thing that as parents we liked about that number is it was easy to kind of look and see where the district was at. We updated it daily, but what can parents look to now to understand the criteria that the district is taking into consideration and what the community risk is really?
Jennifer - You can look, where they should really be looking at the health department, DHSS website. They update that daily by noon each day with all the new case numbers, both the resident and non-resident and the occupancy of all the beds.
Lisa - And then in addition to looking at those numbers daily, internally at the district, every two weeks the district will make a district determination to keep parents informed on how we're tracking. Is that correct?
Jennifer - Yes.
Lisa - Okay. And as far as where parents can go to get the latest information from the school district, the ASD School Start 2020 page is a really a great source for families to look at to see what is the newest information coming from the district.
Jennifer - Also on that page, they can find FAQs on what that looks like for when their kids do return to in-person learning.
Lisa - Okay. Jen, thank you so much. Is there anything else that you wanted to add?
Jennifer - Just thank you for having me a and I'm happy to answer these questions.
Lisa - Yeah. Thank you for your time. Thanks for being here and thank you for tuning in to Airplane Arms, Navigating Back to School.