As children return to in-person learning, with the highly infectious Delta variant now the predominant strain of COVID-19 in Dane County, we have seen changes in the level of infection among children, especially younger children (under 12) who are net yet eligible to be vaccinated compared to last school year.

Here’s a deeper dive into data trends in schools, and closer look at how schools are prioritizing health and safety of their school communities to manage the spread of illness through a layered prevention approach.

Data trends

Most schools have started their fall instruction on September 2. There have been 257 Dane County residents who are known to have either attended school while infectious with COVID, or attended shortly before they became infected with COVID, between 8/25-9/17. Through contact tracing, school was a potential source of their exposure. (Note: cluster data are an underrepresentation of all cases)

To put that into perspective, there are roughly 75,000 K-12 students enrolled in public schools throughout Dane County this school year. With that many kids heading back to school, we expected to see an increase in cases involving children and schools, but in order to prevent transmission as much as possible, we have strongly recommended schools utilize universal masking and other layered prevention strategies for this school year.

Overall, the data shows that while cases are higher among children than they were at this time last year, they’re not as high as they were during late Fall 2020, before COVID vaccines were available and when students were largely in virtual learning. This early trend is encouraging and may suggest that creating a circle of protection around kids in the form of high vaccination rates and mask requirements in schools is working as a means to protect children who can’t yet be vaccinated. We will continue to monitor these trends closely in the coming weeks

COVID-19 Data Dashboards

Want to stay-to-date with what’s happening at your school? In addition to our county-wide data dashboard, many school districts have set up their own data dashboards, to help keep families and community members informed about active cases and quarantines. Many of these dashboards are updated weekly and have more detail (such as the number of students and staff quarantined) that we are able to provide in our data snapshot. Here is a list of all of the data dashboards currently available for Dane County School Districts:

If your district has a data dashboard that is not listed above, please let us know and we will add it to the list.

Contact tracing

The CDC, DHS, and Public Health recommend that schools follow a layered approach to COVID-19 mitigation, including promoting vaccination for those who are eligible, requiring masks indoors, increased sanitation and cleaning.

Another key layer in stopping a school outbreak is contact tracing, in combination with isolation and quarantine. This element of preventing the spread of disease requires collaboration between Public Health, school districts, and parents and students:

Step 1:

Whenever Public Health contacts someone with COVID-19, we work with them to identify their close contacts and either notify the close contacts that they were exposed, or provide the person with COVID-19 with tools they can use to notify their contacts. When kids attend school, their parents usually don’t know who their close contacts are at school or have contact information for their families, which is why a partnership and strong communication between Public Health and school health staff is so vital. We notify the school that the child has COVID-19 and school staff identify and notify close contacts from school.

Step 2:

When a school has a student or staff person who tests positive for COVID-19, school staff work with a Public Health site investigator. Together, they track all of the cases and contacts at the school to determine if there is spread happening at the school and discuss additional steps the school can take to reduce spread if it is occurring.

Step 3:

After being notified a student has been identified as a close contact, what happens next depends on the person’s vaccination status:

  • Vaccinated close contacts need to get tested.

The Takeaway: Schools and families are invaluable partners in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Dane County.

Cases are still lower than the peak we saw during the surge last fall and we are trying to keep it that way by layered strategies in our schools. By getting vaccinated if you’re eligible, notifying close contacts, quarantining if necessary, getting tested if you’re having symptoms and following Public Health guidance surrounding masks, we can work together to ensure our students are able to continue to enjoy in-person learning and stay healthy.

Looking for more information?

Check out the recommendations and guidance for schools and childcare facilities and read through an FAQ designed for parents with questions about their children returning to in-person learning safely, read our blog post.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Public Health Madison & Dane County and a link back to the original post.