State health commissioner Kristina Box says she’s neither surprised nor alarmed by the number of Indiana schools with coronavirus cases as soon as they reopened.
Box says she remains confident Indiana schools can reopen safely. She says she understands people are fearful about sending their kids back to school, but she says she fully expected there would be virus cases there. And she says there will be more — especially as schools resume contact sports where social distancing is impossible.
But while Box says some cases are inevitable, she says schools still need to take the precautions the health department has emphasized repeatedly: wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing. And she says what does concern her are reports of students who had virus symptoms but went to school anyway. She says it’s critically important for anyone with symptoms to stay home, and for people to obey instructions to quarantine if they’ve been in contact with someone who’s infected.
The state has recommended that schools minimize intermingling of students, keeping groups of students together so that one case means quarantining a handful of students, not the entire school.
Box says schools need the ability to protect students and staff whose other health conditions put them at higher risk. But she says there are many reasons it’s important for schools to open if possible, from students who depend on school breakfast and lunch programs, to students who lack either parents or computer hardware at home to get the most out of e-learning.
Box says the state’s working with local schools to help them assess their local circumstances, but won’t issue statewide guidance. She says she disagrees with counties, including Marion, Saint Joseph, and Lake, which have set specific infection benchmarks for shutting down. Box says schools need to take into account whether an outbreak is community-wide, or focused on one business or nursing home. And she says a county which hasn’t done much testing could get a misleadingly high infection rate from just a few cases.