What is the key to safely reopen schools during a public health crisis? Pinecrest Academy, a PreK through 12 schools in Northern Georgia, opened its doors for in-person learning last August. To date, no COVID-19 cases have spread between students. How did they do it?
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a wave of unprecedented school closings in 2020 – by late April, nearly all schools had announced that they would be closed for the remainder of the academic year. As the fall approached and the pandemic continued, schools were determined not to let the pandemic disrupt the 2020-2021 academic year as well. When Pinecrest Academy made the decision to fully reopen, they knew they had to create a solid plan that would keep students safe, follow CDC guidelines and state regulations, and keep COVID-19 out of their classrooms.
With four separate locations, the administration at Pinecrest had challenges ahead of them if they wanted to reopen. Initially, they created a 23-page plan and used Google Sheets to record infections and contact tracing, but it soon became clear that this would not be enough. Pinecrest would also have to take action to prevent the virus from spreading. This would require tracking a far more expansive and diverse amount of information and developing safety protocols that considered a broad range of factors. Furthermore, the school was expected to report this information to the Georgia Health Department on a weekly basis.
Pinecrest eventually made the move to strengthen its data system by partnering with IPC Global and Qlik to implement the Campus Health Tracker. With the Tracker, Pinecrest has been able to use a single platform to view and enter data related to infections, quarantines, recoveries, contact tracing, general student health, and even community-based factors. The software is also integrated with existing school databases, so users can compare data against important information such as student attendance records. Charlene Dougal, Assistant Head of School at Pinecrest, said, “We have at our fingertips the ability to know the overall health of our campus at any moment in time.”
Mark Meersman, the Managing Partner of IPC Global, presented a walkthrough of the Campus Health Tracker in a webinar called “Conquering Campus Health at Your School.” Intuitive dashboards and visualizations give a quick overview of case counts, but what the Tracker really brings is its ability to trigger automated protocols as soon as an infected or exposed individual is identified. In an instant, the Tracker can determine who needs to move into quarantine, and for how long. Meersman explained the Tracker is, at its essence, a communication tool – it helps us know what to communicate, how, and to whom. “Understanding that information is very powerful,” said Meersman.
Pinecrest has been able to use data to successfully prevent COVID-19 from spreading within their classrooms. Although cases have arrived, school staff have been able to use the Tracker to put fires out early and eliminate any chances of spread. “With data, you can govern and be in control and open your schools safely and securely, despite obviously the challenges of this invisible virus,” Meersman said.
The Tracker also integrates data from the broader community, so that important factors such as local and social vulnerabilities and are not overlooked. This is bolstered by connecting with other institutions that are also focused on integrating their data systems. For example, the Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS) has also partnered with IPC Global and Qlik to create a data solution that can handle large amounts of information, adapt to changing environments and needs, and eventually automate processes. These data-forward goals will help pave the way for greater interconnectivity and collaboration as we continue navigating the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Educational institutions can seek CARES Act education funding to aid in their data integration efforts. To learn more about how Pinecrest Academy used Campus Health Tracker to reopen, watch the webinar “Conquering Campus Health at Your School”.