The Miami County Health Department issues COVID recommendations to school districts, but they apparently do so without any knowledge of case origin. The Sentinel sent an Open Records request for the number of confirmed cases for each school district, but Christena Beer with the Miami County Health Department denied the request.
“No report with such variables (1. school affiliation; 2.specific school) for COVID-19 cases currently exists at a local-level (sic) and thus, your request is being denied.”
The Sentinel asked MCHD to confirm whether they had the data but not in a ‘report.’ County Counselor Shelly Woodard replied, saying they may have the information but MCHD does not keep track of the data.
“In order to get you what you want the county would have to go through each individual case by hand to see if we have that information, and as the COVID information is being mostly aggregated into the state database we may not have that information for each individual case retained here at the county.”
Woodard suggested getting the data from the Kansas Department of Health, but that is (so far) another stone wall. Louisburg school board member Douglas Shane tried to get the COVID case data from KDHE but was told they are not providing the data by Greg Crawford, Director of Vital and Health Statistics Data Analysis.
“At the present time the Bureau is not fulfilling requests for statistics on COVID 19 beyond what we have online. I was informed that you may want to contact the Miami County Health Department to see if they kept separate records about school transmission. Some counties did.”
Shane also requested the data from the Miami County Health Department to no avail. He says he is dumbfounded by the unwillingness or inability of state and local health officials to provide data.
“As a concerned school board member and veterinary epidemiologist, I promised our patrons that I would help investigate the impacts of various COVID mitigation strategies in our schools through the use of publicly available data, the published literature, and other appropriate sources. Imagine my dismay when I was told by our county health office that 1) they did not have those data available and 2) that even if they did it would be inappropriate to evaluate those COVID-19 case-related data to evaluate the potential impacts of various COVID mitigation strategies in schools on school-related exposures, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. It is disappointing that our local county health office did not deem our public schools, children, and staff to be important enough to report these data to the local school districts.
“What is the point in case investigation and contact tracing if those data are not collected in quality enough fashion for later analysis to drive scientific inquiry and knowledge for better policy in the future?
“Governor Laura Kelly’s Department of Health refused to provide these aggregate data and yet expects school boards to blindly accept her pending guidance on COVID management in schools for the 2021-2022 school year with nothing to go on but a state-level reporting of school clusters with no context. Why is it that they do not want local school boards to have these data down to the local level? Are they uninterested in helping school districts make evidence-based decisions in the best health interests of their students and staff?”
KDHE refuses to provide public information
The Sentinel also submitted an Open Records request to KDHE. Their response indicates they have the data for each school district, but they are using a loophole in the law to keep the data secret.
Katelyn Radloff, an attorney with the KDHE Office of Legal Services wrote, “As KORA does not require a public agency to create a record in order to respond to requests for information, your request will be closed.”
Radloff ignored a follow-up question asking if they had the data but just wouldn’t provide it.
Parent says Miami County Health Dept. is fearmongering
Ashley Rankin is a parent in the Louisburg school district who also tried to get COVID information from the Miami County Health Department. She wanted to know the number of quarantined students who were diagnosed with COVID, fearing that many students were unnecessarily being quarantined.
“Many parents say their quarantined kids didn’t catch COVID. But the Health Department said they don’t have that information. It seems that they only collect data that makes parents more fearful, but they don’t release data that doesn’t support their fear-mongering narrative.”
An email exchange between Rankin and Christena Beer indicates several county health departments have requested data of this nature from KDHE “to no avail.”
Doug Shane is demanding better performance.
“Our public health officials have not demonstrated that they are worthy of receiving blind public trust and continue to contribute to the confusion and frustration felt by so many Kansans. I call upon Governor Laura Kelly and Health Secretary Lee Norman to immediately prioritize the release and evaluation of school-related COVID case data.”