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Some CMS COVID-19 Measures Move In Troubling Direction

Red zone screen shot.png

The latest Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools COVID-19 report indicates some measures are getting worse as the return of elementary students nears. But an official says the one that looks the worst isn't really a problem.

The "readiness dashboard" posted Monday shows less than 85% of schools meet safety standards, a "red zone" indicator that signals schools may not be safe for students. But Chief School Performance Officer Kathy Elling said that only means officials haven't finished inspecting the social-distancing arrangements in all elementary classrooms. She said she's confident that will be done and all schools will pass inspection by Nov. 2, when K-5 students are scheduled to start in-person classes.

The dashboard doesn't track building conditions such as outside airflow, which has been a concern for many employees. Elling said that's because "it's not a 'go/no-go' for opening."

Community Cases Rising

Elling said what worries her most is a community number that's not visible at a glance. The number of cases per 100,000 Mecklenburg County residents went from 53 last week to 83 this week — still in the yellow zone but worrisome given national and international signals that cases are rising as fall settles in.

Mecklenburg's positive test rate inched back into yellow, moving from 4.9% the previous week to 5.1%.

If either of those measures were to move into red — that is, more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents or a positivity rate of 10% or higher — the district would consider whether to put the brakes on the phased-in plan to bring students back in person.

The CMS case tally shows 11 employees tested positive last week, out of about 19,100 employees. The district now has more than 2,700 prekindergarteners and students with disabilities attending in person, with no positive student cases last week.

Understanding The Report

This is the third week CMS has posted COVID-19 data related to bringing students back in person. Elling and her staff have been working to iron out errors and help people understand the report. Here's her explanation of this week's measures.

Over the last 14 days, CMS had 15 schools with at least one positive case, a yellow rating. The district has 176 schools, but those with no students attending aren't counted.

The district has no clusters — defined as five or more cases where the spread appears to have happened at school — but has one school with two adult cases that Elling says are unrelated. That means a green cluster rating but a yellow rating for "cases in a school."

The quarantine report is especially difficult to decipher. At the district level, the report gives a green rating because no schools have had 25 or more people under quarantine in the last 14 days. But in the "school level case monitoring" section there's a yellow rating for "individuals in active quarantine." Elling said one school has 15 or more people quarantined, including some students, and had to close one classroom. She declined to name that school.

The school nurse rating also moved into the yellow zone. Elling says that's because the tally now includes all elementary schools and CMS has 19 nurse vacancies at that level. However, she says CMS is preparing to hire temporary nursing help to cover those schools by the time students return.

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