Kristin Murphy, KSL, File

Nearly 2,000 COVID-19 cases associated with Utah schools since start of school year

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Sep. 28, 2020 at 7:57 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — There have been nearly 2,000 school-associated cases of COVID-19 since the start of the 2020-21 academic year, a new offering to the Utah Department of Health dashboard indicates.

Out of the 1,955 total cases, 71% have been among students, 14.3% among teachers and 14% among others, who include staff who are not teachers, volunteers or others.

The total includes 960 cases associated with schools in the past 14 days, slightly less than half of the total cases since the school year started.

In the past two weeks, there have been a total of 719 student cases associated with schools, 121 among teachers and 120 among others.

The dashboard includes cases of people who attended, worked in or visited K-12 schools in person for 15 minutes or more while they had symptoms or within 15 days of their symptom onset. School-associated cases are identified through interviews with cases by local health departments.

“This helps us know if the person was at school during their exposure period, and were potentially exposed at a school, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the person got COVID-19 from being exposed to the virus while at school,” an explainer video states.

Utah’s school-age population is around 700,000 youths, according to estimates, and the vast majority attend public schools.

The dashboard also includes bar charts depicting incidence rates among school-age children, which indicates far greater incidence among youths age 14-18 and less so among children ages 11-13, and much less so among children ages 5-10.

According to the video, the charts include both school-associated cases and cases that were not associated with a school.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson said the dashboard “is about what we anticipated. I’m grateful that it’s not more than what we are seeing.”

Schools are cleaner than they’ve ever been and educators and students have been dutiful in following mitigation steps such as mask-wearing, hygiene and social distancing, she said.

Outside of school, teens tend to be highly social and mobile. “They’re just thinking about socialization and that’s very natural for their age,” Dickson said.

“But anywhere kids congregate without masks, we’re going to see a rise in the cases. So while it’s disappointing, based on what we’ve seen in the cases, and some of the activities taking place outside of school, we would anticipate some of this happening. Our goal is, of course, to mitigate it, stop it and keep kids in school,” she said.

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The dashboard also shows numbers of active cases and total cases by school district jurisdiction.

The largest numbers of school-associated cases have occurred in the state’s largest school districts, which include, in order of enrollment, Alpine, Davis, Jordan, Granite and Canyons.

According to the dashboard, Alpine District has had 419 school-associated cases since school started with 205 within the past two week; Canyons District had 275 since school started, with 156 active cases; and Davis has had 252 overall with 120 within the past two weeks.

Meanwhile, Jordan has had 184 cases, 107 within the past two weeks, and Granite, 191 cases with 84 active cases, according to the dashboard.

Dickson said the case counts are highest in schools in communities also experiencing higher case counts.

“Wherever we see a hot spot in the community, we see a spike in the schools,” she said.

Jenny Johnson, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Health, concurred.

“It is a community issue. What happens in a community is going to happen in school. If you live somewhere where there’s a lot of cases, you’re going to see a lot of cases in the school. A school is not immune to what is happening in the broader community,” she said.

The school information does not break down cases by school districts or charter schools by number of school-associated cases among students, teachers or others.

One teacher in the Canyons School District, Charri Jensen, has been hospitalized with COVID-19 since Sept. 16. Her daughter, Talesha Jensen, said Monday that her mother is able to talk to her family each day and is otherwise improving. Talesha Jensen, her sister and father also contracted COVID-19 and have recovered at home.

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