PAUSD administration should improve transparency regarding COVID-19 cases


In the past year, billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief have been allocated to schools in order to provide students with safer learning environments. Now, the skyrocketing number of cases and transmissibility of the Omicron variant has led many Americans to once again ask schools to take extra safety precautions in order to ensure the safety of their students. When it comes to the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD), increased testing has become a primary approach to combat the widespread problem. Hundreds line up to get swabbed, but the data has proven hard to find, outdated and outright vague, raising transparency concerns.

Given the variability of case numbers and the number of people students are in contact with on campus, it’s important for families to fully understand and have access to information regarding the spread of COVID-19. Not only does COVID-19 data provide community members with an idea of the safety of their nearby schools, but it also plays a crucial factor in the implementation of public health policies.

In order to view information regarding the number of COVID-19 cases in PAUSD schools, one must go to the main PAUSD website and click on at least two consecutive hyperlinks. With the importance of reliable COVID-19 data, the information should be as easily accessible as possible. A simple solution would be to add a direct hyperlink from the PAUSD homepage directly to the data, as many neighboring districts—San Francisco Unified School District, for one—have already done.

Not only that, but in the weeks leading up to the height of the Omicron wave, PAUSD’s COVID-19 data page was made entirely unreachable during a period of technical difficulties. Case numbers and general COVID-19 information should be easily accessible to any parent, student or community member, not hidden away in a long, confusing list of hyperlinks.

In addition to being inaccessible, the district’s COVID-19 data is not representative of the current number of cases. As of Feb.3, PAUSD has planned to report cases every Tuesday at 10 a.m., but the district’s inability to post the data more frequently suggests their inefficiency in reporting cases. Given the variability of case numbers from one day to the next, cases should be updated more frequently. At the height of the Omicron wave, over 15,300 new cases were reported in Santa Clara County in a single day, but community members had to wait an entire week to see if a similar surge was happening at PAUSD schools.

The Los Gatos Saratoga Union High School District (LGSUHSD) is located in Santa Clara County and reports positive cases within 24 hours. Since both LGSUHSD and PAUSD are school districts within the same county, what prevents PAUSD from reporting cases on a more frequent level? In Washington, D.C. schools, the lack of case transparency led to the implementation of a bill requiring school districts to update case numbers within 24 hours of a positive case. “The consequences of a delay in notification could be dire,” wrote the D.C. City Council in the bill. “Notification within 24 hours of a positive case would allow families and teachers to take proactive steps to take a test and limit contact with vulnerable populations while robust contact tracing is taking place.”

Currently, the COVID-19 case dashboard remains vague and provides the reader with little information besides the reported student and staff cases for each PAUSD site. While it is understandable that the district cannot disclose any private information regarding each individual person, there is still a host of possible data they could easily have access to and share with the community. By adding more details—such as the rate of positive cases to the total number of people tested, a visual representation comparing current data to that of previous weeks or an indication of whether or not the county health department has been notified—the district could provide valuable insight into the virus’ current spread within their schools, as well as their approach in regards to it.

With its highly-transmissible nature, the Omicron variant presents community members with another level of uncertainty. In response, the data PAUSD reports should reflect case fluctuations to stay as transparent as possible.