Reeves maintains state should not require school districts to publicly disclose COVID-19 outbreaks

Reeves maintains state should not require school districts to publicly disclose COVID-19 outbreaks

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Though Gov. Tate Reeves said he believes the spread of coronavirus in schools will happen despite the state’s best efforts, he still remains adamant that, at this point, school districts should not be required to disclose to the public information about COVID-19 outbreaks that take place.

“It’s my recollection and my understanding that the individual schools have to report to the state health department, and the health department is going to report publicly just as they did with respect to nursing homes, for example, all cases on a county-by-county basis,” Reeves said Friday.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said as of Friday, nearly half of Mississippi’s counties have schools with coronavirus cases.

Some, like the Corinth School District, have continuously kept parents and the public informed through social media posts, alerting them when someone has tested positive for COVID-19.

Other districts only tell the parents and choose not to release that information to members of the public at large, whether through social media or releases to news organizations.

The Rankin County School District still has yet to confirm an outbreak at one of its elementary schools despite multiple requests from 3 On Your Side.

An email obtained by WLBT reveals StoneBridge Elementary notified parents that several teachers tested positive for COVID-19, but no students were affected because they weren’t on campus yet.

Dobbs said they’re working on taking that information from around 1,200 schools and breaking it down on the health department’s website, starting Monday.

“[The schools are] going to submit information to us on a weekly basis, and it’s gonna include information on new cases among students, teachers, the number quarantined, and cumulative number as well,” Dobbs said.

While it’s more information than many districts are providing, MSDH’s efforts will fall short of full transparency because those cases will be county-by-county instead of district-level.

In addition, weekly counts make it far more difficult for members of the public -- and state health department -- to identify trends.

“The vast majority of individual schools and districts are going to report publicly that information and those that do not, you’re gonna find about it before I do, as soon as three parents know about it, everybody in the community’s going to know about it,” Reeves said.

The problem, however, comes from people posting individually on social media about those potential outbreaks: without the district to provide an official number, it allows anybody to spread potential misinformation online about any school.

Reeves agreed with that assessment.

“I think that’s a valid point. We’ll take a look, look into that and see how we can improve that information,” Reeves said.

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