A report from a national finance website claims that Tennessee is not safe to reopen its schools, a claim that state and local school officials are rejecting.
WalletHub.com released its 2020 Safest States for Schools to Reopen analysis on Monday and ranked the state in the top five for most childhood COVID-19 cases per capita and most COVID-19 deaths among school-aged children. It also scored the state poorly in terms of safety for reopening schools.
Victoria Robinson, Tennessee Department of Education's director of media, told the Times Free Press by email that "the majority of metrics in this study would reflect pre-COVID numbers and are not reflective of what we are seeing in schools.
"Districts are empowered to make local decisions for schools based on COVID-19 in their communities, and most districts are offering in-person options for families as a result of feedback from their community," Robinson said. "Of schools that provided an in-person option, roughly 99% are open for in-person learning at any given time. This trend has been consistent for the 8+ weeks schools have been open in the state."
The study said the rank was determined by two "key dimensions," risk of contracting COVID-19 and health and financial infrastructure.
WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez told the Times Free Press that the data used in compiling the report was only at the state level.
"We don't have any county-level information. The data we collected regarding the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, as well as the requirement of public mask usage, is from late August to early September. The report is aimed at determining which states are the safest for reopening schools, and for this we used the most recent data available from reputable, mostly government sources."
The website's communications manager added that one factor in the study — the number of overall COVID-19 positive cases in the past seven days — referred to the Aug. 30 to Sept. 5 time frame. Tennessee didn't have a spot on this particular list; Alabama ranked in the top slot.
According to the Tennessee Department of Health website, during that timeframe there was an average increase of daily cases by 1,000 to 3,000. As of Tuesday, there are 194,611 positive cases statewide — an increase of 879 since Monday. Out of the total, 35,324 cases, or 16%, were of people up to age 20, with six deaths in the age group.
Locally, school district officials said the study does not seem to have a lot to do with how the district reopened and what they were doing as a school district.
Since Aug. 31, the district has followed its Phase 3 schedule, meaning every student who enrolled for in-person learning is expected to attend school five days a week and follow the normal bell schedule with social distancing and wearing a mask. Of the more than 42,000 students enrolled this school year; approximately 27,000 are enrolled for in-person learning districtwide.
Every two weeks, the district analyzes health data such as active cases, hospitalizations and patients in intensive care to determine if it will continue with in-person instruction. The continuation of on-campus learning does not affect HCS at Home or Virtual School students — they continue to learn from home.
The next public update from the district on scheduling is Oct. 9.
According to Hamilton County School's COVID-19 dashboard, there are eight employees and 31 students with active cases as of Tuesday. There hasn't been a change among employees but an increase of four cases among students since Monday.
In Hamilton County, as of Tuesday, there are 9,774 total cases with 95 people who have died. Out of the total, 2,264, or 23%, are up to age 20. Two children who died from COVID-19 were under the age of 10.
Contact Monique Brand at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her Twitter and Facebook @MoBrandNews.
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