Accurate, timely data vital to BCSC’s reopening plan

If the plan to reopen local schools is going to work, the decision-based data will need to be accurate and prompt.

After weeks of deliberation, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.’s school board approved a plan to reopen its schools for the 2020-21 school year on Monday.

At its core, the plan outlines three possible categories of operation for schools: minimal/no spread, moderate spread, and substantial spread.

During his presentation, BCSC Superintendent Jim Roberts stated that the schools would currently be under the yellow (moderate spread) category. He said decisions need to be flexible moving forward, as more information is provided by local and state officials daily.

Data in determining the schools’ statuses will be submitted by the Indiana State Department of Health, Columbus Regional Health and Optum Labs. In the slide mentioning indicators for school status, it also states that surrounding county data will be considered.

Important indicators will include: per capita positive rate and its trend, percent positive test rate and its trend, test turnaround time, COVID-19 hospitalizations and school mask compliance percentages.

Three of the six boxes are currently in the yellow, but the percent positive test rate and COVID-hospitalizations were green for Bartholomew County on Monday. School mask compliance can not be determined at this time since the students haven’t started classes.

While the percent positive and per capita rates both need attention, test turnaround time may prove a bigger problem in the coming weeks.

During his presentation, Roberts said that there could be some lag in the state numbers, but that BCSC would try to update the metrics on its website weekly.

According to BCSC’s presentation, the average wait time for test results in the county is three days. If that number reaches five days or longer, it could create major issues: The data wouldn’t be up to date while students and teachers are in the buildings.

Unfortunately, those wait times could continue to increase, as multiple states are facing testing surges and diminishing testing supplies. In Indiana, the situation is no different as the number of positive cases has continued to increase over the past two weeks while testing wait times have increased.

During a press conference last week, Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said that turnaround times increased to an average to 59 hours, and that some results have taken as long as 80 hours.

If the supply chain issues continue to struggle, the data that the schools receive could be a week-plus old by the time they receive them. That data wouldn’t give BCSC and the Bartholomew County Health Department an accurate model to work with.

During the school board meeting, Roberts emphasized that it’s going to take a community effort to make in-person schooling happen.

While Bartholomew County’s residents have done better than most in slowing the spread, efforts can’t stop now.