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SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake County Health Department has been granted access to monthly student enrollment data to help expedite the notification of students and schools about positive COVID-19 cases.
Earlier this week, the Utah State Board of Education approved the data request and directed board staff to develop a streamlined process for other health authorities in the state to request like data.
Jeffrey Eason, manager of Salt Lake County Health's population health and informatics bureau, said the linkage will expedite the identification and notification of students who have tested positive for COVID-19 "so we can remove them."
That data will also be used to rapidly identify children "who are intended to be quarantined and therefore should not be at school, and share that information with our school nurses. ... We believe this will interrupt the transmission and decrease the rates within schools," Eason told the State School Board on Thursday.
The requested data includes student names, dates of birth, gender and the school they attend in Salt Lake County. It will be shared monthly to allow health department to cross-reference lab results and enable officials to notify students and schools faster when there are positive test results.
The health department currently verifies COVID-19 positive student enrollment by contacting school nurses, but it is a time-consuming, back-and-forth process, Eason said.
"We're talking about typically two to three days for us to identify a case in the follow-up investigation. So, with people being infectious two days prior to their illness onset, unfortunately that offers quite a few different opportunities for students to go to school unidentified and potentially exposing their peers," Eason said.
The State School Board approved the data request, but some board members expressed concerns about privacy and questioned why the board needed to be part of the request between the Salt Lake County Health Department and schools in Salt Lake County.
Board member Jennie Earl questioned why not ask parents, when their child is tested, to disclose where they attend school.
"I do get concerned when we do these broad (data requests), just because it's easy for us," she said. "And if it's OK in this situation, it will be OK in many situations."
But other board members said the health department needs the information to better protect public health.
Board member Carol Lear said none of the data requested is "highly private, intrusive information" and its release to the health department does not negatively impact students.
Board vice chairwoman Brittney Cummins also spoke in support of the data request because it provides an efficient means for health authorities to contact students and schools, she said.
"So I'm completely in support of their request, how they request it and the manner in which they're going about this. They are doing their jobs in a very efficient way, the job that we have asked them to do from the very beginning and the job of the governor has asked them to do from the very beginning so I support this strongly," Cummins said.
The agreement will begin Nov. 15 and is set to expire at the end of 2021. The contract includes requirements to protect the data and to destroy it when the agreement terminates.