Indiana tweaks county virus rating system for school decisions

Indiana’s top health official announced Wednesday a change to the new county-by-county rating system for coronavirus risks just before it was becoming public as a guide for school leaders on whether to keep students in their classrooms.

The state health department will now assign scores to all 92 counties based on the number of new cases per 100,000 residents and the percentage of tests confirming COVID-19 infections. Those scores then coordinate with a color-coded rating system for the county’s level of community spread and risk.

It’s a change from the state’s initial version of the system introduced last week, which additionally calculated the week-by-week change in positivity rate at the county level, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said.

Box said the ratings were changed based on feedback received from school leaders in the past week. The new metrics, she said, will be “less volatile” to rapid COVID-19 changes at the community level and more representative of “true community spread” within a county.

“We want these maps to be useful tools, but do not want them to give people a false sense of security when COVID-19 is still very active in their communities,” Box said. “The goal is to provide an easy to understand system that local and school officials can use to inform their decisions.”

Some local school district leaders have been reluctant to embrace the new system, saying countywide statistics might not indicate the coronavirus risk in their communities.

The county ratings provide only recommendations for schools and does not trigger any mandates from the state, Box said. Even in the poorest scoring counties, Box said that the state still does not recommend closing in-person instruction at elementary schools.

“We are trying to give some direction in the form of a map with a color-coded system that’s more basic so that the average person can really look at that and understand the importance of saying to their kids ‘Put that mask back on or you’re not going to have your friends over,’” Box said.

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