Alabama statewide school COVID tracker to debut Oct. 30; Here’s how it works

Updated Oct 28, 2020; Posted Oct 27, 2020

Alabama COVID school tracker
This is a screenshot of one part of the Alabama COVID school tracker shared during a training session on Oct. 26. The number of cases was removed from the image because it was fewer than five.

By Trisha Powell Crain

Alabamians anxious to get a look at the prevalence of COVID-19 among students, teachers, and staff in schools statewide will get their chance on Friday.

The dashboard, in the works since late August, will be published on the Alabama Department of Public Health website and will include the number of self-reported positive COVID-19 cases in each school system, but will not be broken down by school.

After discussion between Alabama State Department of Education officials during a Monday afternoon training session for school nurses about whether to report only laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases or whether to report all known self-reported positives among students and faculty, Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey told the school tracker will follow the same reporting protocol school nurses follow now on the ADPH report card.

“The (Alabama Department of Public Health) school dashboard will use the same protocols for reporting as the ADPH report card,” Mackey wrote to

Currently, the ADPH report card—the mechanism through which school nurses report positive cases to ADPH for contact tracing—does not require laboratory confirmation of positive cases.

Schools currently rely on parents and staff to report positive cases of COVID-19, but schools are not required to collect laboratory results before reporting a positive case.

K-12 schools have not appeared to be the source of community spread of coronavirus, something many feared prior to the opening of schools in August. The school tracker, Mackey said earlier this month, is important for two reasons, Mackey said: “So people take it seriously, and so they don’t overreact.”

“We want to be fully transparent so that people know that there are cases in the community,” Mackey said. Knowing the level of spread, he added, helps people to continue to do the things needed to mitigate that spread.

The school tracker will include positive cases for the week ending each Tuesday evening, officials said. State department of education nurses will review the data, and it will be published online by 10 a.m. each Friday morning.

A school district’s lead nurse is the only school official who can complete the school tracker report for the district, and while student and faculty cases will be reported separately, only a total will be reported to the public. Five cases or fewer will not be reported by number for privacy reasons, officials said.

While there is no national template or standard for reporting cases in schools, some states provide a more detailed breakdown than Alabama is planning to report.

Florida reports positive cases by school and whether the person is a student, teacher, or other staff member. Their report also includes whether persons were showing symptoms. Louisiana reports cases weekly but only by parish, or county. Utah breaks case data down into three age groups, 5 to 10 years old, 11 to 13 years old and 14 to 18 years old.

For its school reporting dashboard, New York’s public health department not only relies on self-reporting, but also uses official lab results, matching the lab results to the school district where the student or staff member is enrolled.

Some Alabama school districts have created their own dashboards, including those listed below:

Other school districts are making weekly reports, either by social media or posting numbers on their website.

In recent days and weeks, a number of schools have had to temporarily switch to remote learning due to staffing shortages as teachers and other staff have been quarantined.

The Alabama Department of Public Health loosened quarantine requirements on close contacts earlier this month, only requiring close contacts—those within six feet for 15 minutes or more—of people who have lost their sense of taste or smell to go home to quarantine for 14 days.

Symptomatic people, including those who have a new loss of taste or smell or who have developed a new cough or new difficulty breathing must isolate for 10 days and be fever- and symptom-free without the use of medication for 24 hours prior to returning to school.