BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey spoke one-on-one with WBRC FOX6 News to provide updates on COVID-19 school-related issues including spending, the highly-anticipated COVID school dashboard, and updated ADPH guidelines.
Federal aid money
Dr. Mackey says there is a plan in place to make sure districts meet the December deadline to get the millions in federal aid money spent for schools. He says a work around being discussed is showing proof that districts intend to spend the money, even if they can’t spend it in enough time.
$170 million was allocated by the state to go towards device purchases and health safety resources. Dr. Mackey says districts must spend the money first on those things and that $170 million is used to reimburse costs.
He says what’s holding up the cash flow, that brings some concern, is that districts have faced a supply chain issue. The state still has about 150,000 computers on back order because of the pandemic. He says because it’s on back order it can’t be paid for, which means no reimbursement and a delay in spending.
“We believe there is a work around if you can show you have a legit back order issue. That’s a supply chain issue," said Dr. Mackey, "That we will be able to get those devices even if it’s after the deadline but hold that money in escrow - hold that money for reimbursements.”
Dr. Mackey says he plans to meet with local superintendents and district chief financial officers next week to discuss how to move forward.
COVID-19 school dashboard
Work continues on the statewide COVID-19 school dashboard. As of Friday, Dr. Mackey says the dashboard should be up “soon.” One reason it may be taking a little longer is because the state had to bring in an extra contractor to help handle the amount of data being compiled.
Dr. Mackey says the dashboard will include a breakdown of each district in the state - not each school. It will include both student and staff positive cases.
A lot of education advocates and parents have said this dashboard will help with transparency and Dr. Mackey agreed that it will give a clearer picture of state schools.
“Talking with lead nurses, talking with school systems. and trying to gauge positivity rates, to gauge where there are outbreaks and where there are things are really under control and we really need a statewide map.”
He says schools have a done a good job in working to mitigate cases.
As work continues on the dashboard, health leaders updated school COVID safety guidance this week that slightly changes the reporting process for schools and who is sent home related to COVID.
COVID safety guidance
Dr. Mackey says he’s getting with state health leaders to go over the changes and discuss the impact, but indicated it’s supposed to help nurses make sure they’re sending students home who are truly at risk.
School leaders will still look for 3 major COVID symptoms: new cough, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, and loss of taste or smell. Students with any of those symptoms will go home and need to be seen by a doctor, but nurses will now only report cases to the state of people who test positive or who have lost their sense of taste or smell.
A person who is deemed sick will only go home if that person reported losing their sense of taste or smell, not the other symptoms. The state’s top pediatrician says this is because COVID has broad symptoms that overlap with other illnesses, but loss of taste or smell is typically always associated with COVID. This updated guidance will be available for all school next week.
“We will be able to roll out by Tuesday a complete plan for Superintendents and school lead nurses to see, so they know what to do under the newly issued guidance," said Dr. Mackey.
State Health leaders say it’s important they’re sending the right people home who are truly at risk because the quarantine time for contact cases is even longer than someone who has tested positive, which means more days out of school.