3-feet social distancing Fred Lynn Middle School

A classroom at Fred Lynn Middle School with desks arranged for social distancing.

During a recent meeting of the Prince William County School Board, Dr. Alison Ansher, director of the Prince William Health District, presented the local “pandemic metrics dashboard” publicly for the first time. 

The dashboard is a big deal because it’s the first tool developed by the Virginia Department of Health that qualifies pandemic metrics for each local health district with a stoplight-like, color-coded ratings of red, yellow or green. 

According to Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, who explained the intent of the tool during a Committee of 100 meeting in July, the colors designate the severity of the pandemic metrics and indicate whether they are too high (red) to return to school safely; or advise caution (yellow); or are low enough for students to safely return to school as normal (green).

The VDH developed the tool to help Virginia school districts make better more informed decisions based on level of “community spread” of the virus. 

At the moment, the dashboards are not public, but we are told the VDH is working on that.

With all the angst about what to do about school and whether it’s safe for any students and teachers to learn in-person, it would seem the dashboards should be made public sooner rather than later. If individual school boards – the members of which are generally not medical professionals – must decide whether conditions are safe enough for schools to reopen, it would seem that more information is better than less. 

During the school board meeting, Dr. Ansher presented an Aug. 22 version of the local dashboard that was a mix of reds and yellows. The district, which includes the county, Manassas and Manassas Park, was squarely in the red when it came to the rate of cases per 100,000 residents. Prince William scored 14.7 on that measure. Any number above 10 is in the red.

Also placing us in the red are the local rates of emergency room visits. Ours is 9 per 100,000, while anything above 6 is red. Ditto for our rate of patients hospitalized in intensive care units for COVID-19. Prince William’s rate is 4.2 per 100,000 residents. Anything above 3.5 is red.

The news was slightly better, but not all that reassuring, for the other three metrics: percent-positivity rate on COVID-19 tests, the rate of COVID-19 outbreaks and the rate of health care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19. The Prince William Health District was squarely in the yellow on those measures. 

Striking a positive note, Ansher emphasized that many of the numbers in the county seem to be on a downward trend. She also reassured board members that the numbers should be taken into consideration along with other factors about which school division officials likely have more expertise, such as when the educational needs of certain students make it worth taking the risks – and making the effort – to bring students into schools for in-person instruction.

Our school board is in the middle of finalizing these decisions this week. Already, the board has wisely decided that most students and teachers should learn virtually from home for at least the first quarter. Given the dashboard numbers, which were not available when the board made that decision back in July, the school board definitely made the right call.

Now the board is hearing objections from teachers about its plan to bring a relatively small number of special education students -- about 1,600 of 12,000 who qualify for such services -- into schools along with their teachers. 

Many teachers have told us they don’t feel safe teaching in person. Given the mix of reds and yellows on the pandemic dashboard, their reluctance seems reasonable. 

Perhaps the school board would be wise to keep an eye on the numbers and delay any move to return students and teachers to classrooms until the numbers are better -- or at least out of the red. 

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(5) comments

Bluto

Lots of questions. Does the school district need to keep collecting as many of my property tax dollars? If we are going to move to online training, do we need as much school infrastructure? Is it the taxpayers responsibility to fund laptops and internet connections? Should breakfast and lunch meal programs moved back to other agencies other than the school? Do we need as many teachers? Why can't the best teacher in the County record the lesson and have it broadcast anytime a student wants? Should after school activities and sports be moved to the private economy? Should funding follow the student?

cultured2014

How about stop whining and go back to work? If you can walk outside and go to the grocery store (or protesting) you can teach your class. This is beyond old at this point. It’s time to go back to work.

weouchere

What a bunch of bull sheit fear mongering. People need to get a grip and return to normal. Nothing the brain trusts have come up with the last 6 months has made a significant difference. You know why? Because this wasn't a significant problem to start with. Certainly not worth all the crazy stuff we have done.

Catharpin411

But keep in mind these same metrics do not apply to walmart workers, harris teeter workers, national harbor gambling, liquor stores etc.

Come on people, they continue to lie and move the goalposts to suit the party desires.

They back the union as a political statement and they trust the science when it proves their point this they dont trust the science.

They continue to lie to you VA taxpayer or else walmart workers simply dont count

zcxnissan

Open up for business. Quit changing metrics day to day, and open that info to the public.

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