According to a recent study conducted by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), less than half of all U.S. students are back in the classroom full time a full year after the start of the global pandemic. IES also found a significant racial disparity in these numbers, with only 15% of Black and 33% of Hispanic students back to full-time, in-person learning.
Getting students back into the classroom is a key priority for the current administration. In January, U.S. President Biden issued an Executive Order on Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers as part of the administration’s earlier announced goals to have most schools open by the end of April.
This Executive Order was followed in March by the CDC issuing an Operational Strategy for K-12 that includes guidance for testing to identify individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection and provided interim guidance for testing and screening higher education institutions. To cover this recommended testing program’s associated expenses, the CDC will provide $10 billion to states for COVID-19 screening tests for students, teachers, and staff in K-12 schools.
A key element to a successful school reopening program is tracking infection rates in the classroom and team sports. In an April 6 interview about the spread of new COVID-19 variants, Dr. Anthony Fauci stated, “We’re finding out that it’s the team sports where kids are getting together, obviously many without masks, that are driving it — rather than in-the-classroom spread.”
Getting students safely back into the classroom has become a daunting task for school districts whose primary focus is education. Most K-12 and colleges are not equipped to manage large-scale COVID-19 testing and contact tracing activities. Private companies, technology and healthcare practitioners have an opportunity to join together with educators in the shared mission to reopen schools safely.
A path to a safe return to the classroom
NTT DATA has developed the Smart Back-to-School application (SB2S) to help facilitate safe reopening programs on the ground. SB2S is a HIPAA-compliant, responsive web application built natively on Amazon Web Services (AWS) that offers advanced reporting capabilities to help schools manage their safe reopening programs. The application also provides tools to get student athletes back to practice and into competition.
This technology has recently been implemented successfully at CSU Pueblo where infection rates dropped from 20% to less than 1% within 6 weeks of implementing the program.
There are four main components to the SB2S program:
Each morning students (or parents of younger students) complete a self-assessment of their health, indicating they are free of COVID-19 symptoms. After the survey, the student is issued either a Green, Yellow or Red QR code that either authorizes access to the campus facilities or provides instructions on the next steps to be evaluated or cleared.
To avoid long waits at the testing centers, students pre-schedule COVID-19 tests through the application. At the time of scheduling, the application collects the required CDC demographic information. In cases where a PCR Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test is required, this data is transferred via a secure connection to a CLIA-certified laboratory for processing.
Through a partnership with Spartan Medical, health professionals or school nurses conduct either Antigen Rapid or RT-PCR tests onsite at a designated test collection center or school nurse’s office. For the Antigen Rapid tests, results are recorded by the medical team directly in the SB2S portal. RT-PCR results are uploaded via a secure connection from that lab to the SB2W portal, allowing all COVID-19 test results to be reported in a single location.
Reporting and automated alerts
A key benefit of the NTT DATA SB2S application is the reporting and alert functionality. As test results are recorded in the system, the student (or parent) receives an email alerting them results are available in the application. In the case of a positive result for SARS-CoV-2 infection, the system also alerts designated campus leaders, making them aware of a positive case within the student population and allowing for contact tracing activities to begin immediately.
Advanced analytics spot trends
In support of Dr. Fauci’s statement, the SB2S application uses an advanced analytics tool that segments both the daily self-assessment and testing data by student demographic groups. The data can also be analyzed for student athletic team affiliation, allowing coaches, trainers, and athletic directors to spot trends within their team early and slow the spread.
Whether students are exposed to COVID-19 in the classroom or on the athletic field, a key element to safely reopening schools and controlling potential outbreaks is a robust testing program of students, faculty and staff. To meet the national goal of having most schools open by the end of April, district leaders must act now to put a testing program into place.
Post Date: 5/17/2021