As students have been preparing for a return to school after the holidays this week, school administrators have been grappling with how to safely resume in-person learning in the midst of the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19. With new data on PolicyMap from Burbio about K-12 COVID-19 school safety measures across the U.S., subscribers can identify which districts have preparations in place for handling the surge, such as student COVID-19 testing, mask mandates, and staff vaccine requirements. The data, when combined with information on daily COVID case increases, poverty, school locations, school demographics and more, reveal which communities may be most vulnerable to delayed school reopenings and additional setbacks in learning.
Mask Mandates Mapped
As a baseline for stemming the spread of the virus, we can see which districts have mask mandates, indicated in green on the map, below:
Zooming into New Mexico, the green shading on the map shows that many districts throughout the state have mask mandates in place, following the CDC’s recommendations:
Omicron-Fueled Virus Hotspots & COVID-19 Testing in Schools
Many public health officials also believe in-school COVID-19 testing may help stop or slow the spread of the virus among students, teachers, and community members. To identify areas where school students and staff may have more protections in place against the Omicron variant, PolicyMap also added information about in-school COVID-19 testing programs.
If we zoom into school districts with mask mandates in Santa Fe and add layers showing COVID-19 Case 14-Day increases and COVID-19 Testing Programs, we can see areas where schools may have more protections in place for students and staff to better weather the Omicron surge.
Communities At Risk of Additional Learning Setbacks From Omicron-Related Reopening Challenges
For those areas without safety measures in place that are currently experiencing extremely high surges in COVID-19 case counts, it’s crucial to identify districts with residents at risk of exacerbated learning setbacks. With skyrocketing case counts, many schools across the country are not reopening on schedule for the spring 2022 semester due to staffing shortages and illnesses. Low-income students and families in those districts may have diminished capacity to navigate remote learning or virtual instruction according to studies conducted in 2020 as discussed in my previous blog post about COVID-19-related learning setbacks. These same students are particularly vulnerable to learning losses, as absenteeism rates among lower income students are worsening and access to support services such as mental health recovery is limited. Below is a map of districts in Florida where masking and testing safety measures have not been implemented, COVID-19 cases are surging, and more than one third of the population is in poverty.
With Burbio’s new School COVID-19 Safety Measures data now on PolicyMap, school administrators, government officials, and education advocates can identify which school districts may be at greatest risk of virus spread, leading to operating challenges and to even more hurdles for students attempting to regaining lost ground from the past two years of the pandemic.