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Education

Parley's Park Elementary School COVID numbers were incorrect, district and health department say

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UPDATED: The Parley's Elementary School community got a scare this week when the campus web site showed that the school had surpassed the 2% threshold of positive cases that would trigger the county’s mandate to require masks on campus.

Summit County Health Director Phil Bondurant said the school district was using last year's counting guidelines. Schools Superintendent Jill Gildea said it was the county's job to update the district on how to count. Bondurant, citing a close working relationship with PCSD, declined to comment on Gildea's assertion that the discrepancy was the health department's responsibility, but pointed out that PCSD was the only district in county using outdated metrics.

According to Summit County Health Director Phil Bondurant, it turned out that the positive numbers at Parleys were incorrect due to the school using a definition of ‘positive’ that differed from what the Utah Department of Health currently uses as a legal definition.

"By definition of the State Emergency Response around COVID, by definition a COVID case is one that has been lab confirmed," Bondurant said, "and school cases considered as one that's been lab confirmed and has been in the schools within 48 hours of that lab confirmation. There was a mixup in how cases were being counted at the school and how they were being uploaded as it as it applies to the definition."

He said a review Thursday by county and state officials determined that Parleys was counting cases that were not confirmed, were based on home tests that aren’t as accurate as PCR tests, were counting students who weren’t on campus when they were ill, and other categories that deviated from the state definition.

Neither Bondurant nor Gildea said the counting problem was due to school nurses' error. Comment from both suggested a breakdown in communication between health department and school district at the administrative level.

Bondurant said Parley's coming so close to the 2% threshold this week and triggering a closer review is what uncovered the reporting problems.

The discrepancy seems like it could have been occurring since the start of school, though Superintendent Jill Gildea didn’t confirm that.

Gildea said by email that the erroneous numbers were input into HealthAttend by the school nurse. HealthAttend is a local startup and contracts with the district as an aggregator, posting COVID numbers of school sites.

Gildea said HealthAttend was operating as expected at Parleys and would have no way of knowing whether the data it was sharing was accurate or in line with the state as it merely displays inputs provided by schools. She added that HealthAttend dashboards on school web sites should only serve as a barometer and an indicator of overall trends, not an accurate or comprehensive count.

Shannon Corcoran, the school nurse at Parleys, co-founded HealthAttend with Parkite Matt Tunney. She did not immediately return a request for comment.

District-wide, schools received new guidelines today from the county health department on what constitutes an official case of COVID in a school.

"I understand that people are going back into the winter and people are sensitive to this," Bondurant said. "I've got kids of my own, I'm sensitive to it as well. We're still in a really good place. And I think the focus of this needs to be that we still need to quarantine we still need to do those things when when we're asked by case investigators and that there was never anything that was done with the intention to be deceitful or to avoid implementing a mass mandate."

Gildea highlighted Friday that while Parleys and other campuses remain under the 2% thresholds for now, COVID in schools is currently spiking, and families should follow established health precautions and protocols, keep ill students home, and if COVID symptoms are present to be tested using a valid system that reports directly to the health department.

Updated: November 9, 2021 at 2:58 PM MST
An earlier version of this report did not clarify that any miscommunication between the health department and the school district about how to count active COVID cases was the result of administrative-level direction.