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Update: NHCS discontinues school-by-school Covid-19 dashboard, citing unreliable and 'suboptimal' data

Until June of this year, NHCS managed an online dashboard showing school-specific Covid-19 data. Then, it stopped.
Until June of this year, NHCS managed an online dashboard showing school-specific Covid-19 data. Then, it stopped.

New Hanover County Schools are not updating their Covid-19 Dashboard for this school year. But districts like Brunswick, Wake, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg are sharing their weekly case counts. WHQR followed up to find out what was behind NHCS's decision.

Update 4:30 p.m. Tuesday — After the initial publication of this report, a NHCS spokesperson reached out to say the district is looking to hire someone in a new administrative support position; duties of the position would be revisiting and reestablishing a dashboard, along with assisting with public records requests and other jobs.

Joshua Smith is the chief communications officer for New Hanover County Schools. He said the reason not to renew the dashboard was the county keeps more accurate numbers than the district.

“So when it comes to Covid related information, especially the data, the health department is in charge of that data. And so we are not now nor were we ever the authoritative source of information for Covid data," he said.

Smith said he understands the optics of not having the school system’s dashboard.

“But I absolutely understand and acknowledge that the perception is that we’ve taken away a tool that people relied on. And the ‘why’ wasn’t because we’re not being transparent or laziness or anything like that; it was a staff-intensive process that led to suboptimal data results," he said.

Currently, there is a petition circulating, asking NHCS to reinstate the school Covid-19 dashboard. Asked how NHCS might alleviate those parents' concerns, Smith said the district wasn't able to generate reliable information — thus the move to rely on the county's health department, instead.

"I would say that their kids are in good hands — they're in the hands of professionals. And we're trying to do this in a way that doesn't cause panic, it doesn't seed confusion, or misinformation. But the hyper granularity where we cannot rely on or stand by the data that we're producing, because, while founded on good intentions, ultimately, we did find errors," he said.

If there’s a case in the schools, Smith said the county health department will conduct contact tracing — and will determine if any student needs to quarantine on a case-by-case basis. And if parents have questions about a possible exposure at school, Smith said, they can reach out to the health department or the child’s school for more information.

Smith also says that any school clusters, which are five or more cases in the same location in the past 14-days, will be shared with the public. As Smithtold WHQR earlier this month, some of these changes stemmed from updated guidance in the Strong Schools Toolkit — others changes came from consultation with the county health department.

Prior to August 23rd there were eight schools open — none had reported clusters.

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR