Scott County Director of Schools Bill Hall announced at a meeting of the county’s board of education earlier this month that four students in the county school system have been diagnosed with coronavirus — one of them prior to entering a classroom for the first time this school year, and three more within the week prior to that September 10 announcement.
With the number of coronavirus cases on the rise locally, some residents have posed the question: Is the increase due to a return to school?
The TN Dept. of Health reported six new cases of Covid-19 in Scott County on Friday. That raised the number of active cases of the virus in Scott County to 21, the most since the Dept. of Health shortened the time of recovery from 21 days to 14 days. That decision, on September 3, resulted in a drastic decrease in active cases locally, from 49 to 10. Since that time, there had been no more than 17 active cases of the virus.
Schools returning to session is an easy scapegoat; schools are breeding grounds for viruses and bacteria of all sorts; already, there have been reports of strep throat and stomach virus — two of the usual culprits of illness early in the school year — making the rounds in the schools. But is a return to the classroom actually responsible for the increase in coronavirus cases?
Following is an examination of data provided by the TN Dept. of Health for Scott County.
Two of the six new cases of coronavirus reported by the Dept. of Health in Scott County on Friday involved school-age children, between the ages of 5 and 18. As of Friday, a total of 21 children in that age group have been diagnosed with coronavirus since the pandemic began in the spring.
• By July 18, when the Dept. of Health began reporting age breakdowns by county, there were five children in Scott County who had been sickened by coronavirus. At that time, there had been 34 total cases of the virus locally, meaning nearly 15% involved children between the ages of 5 and 18.
• By August 7, as schools were resuming, the number of coronavirus cases in the 5-to-18 age group had more than doubled, to 13. At that same point, there were 118 total cases of coronavirus in Scott County. Based on those numbers, 11% of the coronavirus cases by August 7 had involved school-aged children.
• The first day of school for students in the Oneida Special School District was August 6. The first day of school for Scott County students was August 10. Both school systems began the semester with a phase-in schedule. Oneida schools had roughly half of their students in class each day, by alphabetical order. County schools had roughly a fourth of students in class each day, by grade level.
• By September 8, the day after Labor Day (and the day that both school systems began a full schedule), the number of coronavirus cases involving children ages 5 to 18 had increased to 18. At the same time, the total number of coronavirus cases in Scott County had increased to 167. Based on those numbers, just under 11% of the coronavirus cases by September 8 involved school-aged children.
• As of Friday, September 18, the number of coronavirus cases involving children ages 5 to 18 is 21. the total number of coronavirus cases in Scott County is 194. About 11% of the total number of cases involve school-aged children, a percentage that has not budged since early August.
• Prior to the start of school in early August, 11% of Scott County’s total coronavirus cases (13 out of 118) involved children between the ages of 5 and 18. Since the start of school in early August, 10.5% of Scott County’s coronavirus cases (8 out of 76) have involved children between the ages of 5 and 18.
As school administrators have said in the past, it isn’t a matter of “if” but “when” coronavirus cases show up in schools. So far, local schools have been fortunate. Sports seasons have not been disrupted by positive cases involving student-athletes, and the number of students being quarantined has been relatively low since health department guidelines changed that originally required close contacts of suspected cases to be sent home. But everyone involved also realizes it’s likely only a matter of time until the plans that are in place for positive coronavirus cases have to be put into practice.
Only the health department, through contact tracing efforts that aren’t shared publicly, can reasonably ascertain how much school is fueling the spread of coronavirus. But, based on the data, here is what the public can reasonably ascertain:
Since school began, the percentage of local coronavirus cases involving school-aged children has not changed. In other words, school-aged children are still comprising the same rate of overall coronavirus cases as they were in the summer months, when schools were closed.
Here is the overall age breakdown of coronavirus cases in Scott County, as of September 18:
• Ages 0-10: 13 (7%)
• Ages 11-20: 27 (14%)
• Ages 21-30: 20 (10%)
• Ages 31-40: 31 (16%)
• Ages 41-50: 31 (16%)
• Ages 51-60: 33 (17%)
• Ages 61-70: 22 (11%)
• Ages 71-80: 11 (6%)
• Ages 81+: 6 (3%)
How does that compare with the statewide age breakdown? Across the state, it looks like this:
• Ages 0-10: 5%
• Ages 11-20: 13%
• Ages 21-30: 21%
• Ages 31-40: 17%
• Ages 41-50: 15%
• Ages 51-60: 13%
• Ages 61-70: 9%
• Ages 71-80: 5%
• Ages 81+: 3%
And how has it changed since the summer months? As of August 1, this was the age breakdown of coronavirus cases in Scott County:
• Ages 0-10: 10 (10%)
• Ages 11-20: 11 (11%)
• Ages 21-30: 9 (9%)
• Ages 31-40: 17 (17%)
• Ages 41-50: 16 (16%)
• Ages 51-60: 12 (12%)
• Ages 61-70: 15 (15%)
• Ages 71-80: 5 (5%)
• Ages 81+: 1 (1%)