As School Starts, Tipp. School Corporation Has Disproportionate COVID-19 Quarantines Among Students
The Tippecanoe County Health Department on Friday released data on positive COVID-19 cases and quarantines among local school corporations.
The county’s biggest public school corporations all started school last week. Both Lafayette School Corporation and West Lafayette Community School Corporation opted to require masks, at the advice of both state and local health officials. Tippecanoe School Corporation decided against a mask mandate.
The Tippecanoe School Corporation reported 42 positive cases as of Thursday, along with 388 quarantined students. Lafayette and West Lafayette both had 11 positive cases each and 28 and 20 quarantines, respectively.
The school corporations each serve a different number of students. According to the Indiana Department of Education, the Lafayette School Corporation has 7,780 students enrolled, West Lafayette School Corporation has 2,316, and Tippecanoe School Corporation has 13,464.
But Tippecanoe County Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler says even based on corporation size, the difference in quarantines is significant.
“Even when you take into consideration the large size of TSC the number of quarantines is really quite high,” he said. “We worry that as those numbers and quarantines grow by day, will the number get to a point where it's not possible for the school to provide in person learning?”
According to Adler, the quarantines only include exposures that happened in the school setting. He said without a mask mandate the trend at TSC is likely to continue.
“We are going to continue to see case numbers climb,” Adler said. “More school students and staff sick with COVID-19. And we’ll have an increasing number of students placed in quarantine and missing out on in-person learning.”
Adler also noted that one of the benefits of requiring masks in schools is that it would also reduce the number of necessary quarantines.
“Per the Indiana Department of Health when everybody in a class is masked, the close-contact distance decreases from six feet to three feet. Without masks required, it’s still six feet,” he said. “Requiring masks will actually reduce the number of students that require quarantine and I think that’s what you are seeing in the data when you look at the other school corporations that are requiring masks. That’s why their number of quarantines and percentage of quarantines is lower.”
Jennifer Dobbs-Oates is a mother with two students enrolled at TSC who has been in support of masking. She said she is concerned, but unsurprised, by the new numbers.
“At this point I’m at a place where the TSC has already shown it cannot be counted on to follow the scientific guidance all by itself,” she said. “They’ve had the scientific guidance for many many weeks and it hasn’t followed the guidance.”
Dobbs-Oates said even if the nearly 400 quarantines all end up being negative for COVID - that’s still a problem.
“When their job is to provide education, if we’re disrupting education for hundreds of kids, then we have a problem on our hands,” she said. “This is just a few days into the school year and we know that COVID tends to grow exponentially when it’s at high spread and close contact and all those kinds of things. I worry the differences are only going to become even more pronounced even more quickly.”
Dobbs-Oates said even accounting for TSC’s bigger size, the numbers are concerning.
“That is not about ‘we serve a lot of kids.’ We can just do the rates and figure out how to make these comparisons,” she said. “That is about we do not have plans in place to protect the kids we serve.”
On Friday, IU Health Arnett Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jim Bien said he was saddened but unsurprised by the numbers released by the health department -- and that while cases and quarantines were still a reality in other school districts, TSC’s higher numbers were impacted by the lack of masking.
“I think Tippecanoe School Corporation needs to instill a mask mandate and join their colleagues throughout the county,” Bien said. “Because that will reduce the potential of spread. That will reduce spread in the community -- not just among children, but among their family members, and among staff in those facilities, and among the rest of us.”
The Tippecanoe School Corporation did not respond to our request for comment.