Students at 42 Charter School have their temperatures checked on the first day of in-person classes since COVID-19 shuttered schools in March of 2020.

The NOLA Public Schools district is tracking six “active” cases of COVID-19 in staff and students and 44 people are quarantining after coming into contact with a known case of the virus, according to the district’s weekly report. But due to recently announced changes in how schools are reporting COVID data, it’s unclear how well that reflects the actual number of cases in schools.

This week’s report will be the last including data generated locally and some schools — though it’s unclear how many — have already stopped reporting cases to the district. 

The district reported a 0.12 percent positivity rate on the 16,251 tests it facilitated last week. That should yield at least 19 positive cases, but the district only reported six. 

Beginning next week, the district will be using data that schools report to the Louisiana Department of Health, rather than data reported directly to the district. 

According to district officials, that will include case counts by school, though LDH does not provide school case counts in its public-facing database, which reported 33 cases in Orleans Parish schools in its most recent data released last week. That report, like the week prior, said that more than 50 percent of the cases identified in the report, which covers every parish in the state, were based on test samples that were more than a month old.

Last week, district officials said schools were beginning to report solely to the state. 

“While schools are required to continue to report cases to the state, many schools are gradually relieving themselves of the extra burden of reporting the data to the District, which goes above and beyond what’s required by health officials, and the COVID Tracker data from this point forward may reflect this,” the release said. 

Cases remain low in the city, with an average of 12 new cases per day and a test positivity rate of one percent, according to city data.

This week all but four schools show zero cases and zero quarantines — but it is unclear if cases are that low in schools or if the majority of city schools have stopped reporting cases to the district. 

When a school fails to submit a weekly report, the district’s tracker still lists the school as having zero cases. In a February interview, Tulane University epidemiologist Dr. Susan Hassig suggested the district change its reporting standards, requiring schools with no cases or quarantines to submit weekly reports. If a school doesn’t submit a report, she said, that should be reflected in the data as a non-report rather than a zero. 

“I am very much opposed to using zero for a field that doesn’t have a report,” she said in a February interview. “It needs to be a non-valid response for the field, so if it’s a numeric field it should be a non-numeric response like an NR or an X.”

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...