COVID-19 in public schools in Ontario: Fall 2021 vs Fall 2020

Introduction

Since September 2020, Ontario’s Ministry of Education has published daily reports of COVID-19 in the province’s public schools. Two datasets are of the greatest interest:

For more on the relationship between these two datasets, and the mechanics of the Summary of cases in schools dataset, see our technical note (forthcoming).

We want to compare these reports in the Fall 2020 vs the Fall 2021.

Samples

The 2021-22: Schools with recent COVID-19 cases dataset begins on September 13, 2021, shortly after the official start of the 2021-22 academic year on September 9, 2021. A sample of fourteen weeks of reports includes those from September 13 up to including December 17, 2021, the last day of school before the winter break. A comparable sample for the 2020-21 academic year includes reports from September 14 to December 18, 2020, inclusive.1While the Ontario government permitted school boards to stagger the opening of schools, the vast majority of schools had opened by September 14 or 15, 2020. We sample reports for the same two fourteen week periods from the 2020-21: Summary of cases in schools and the 2021-22: Summary of cases in schools datasets.

Initial Comparisons

The Summary of cases in schools datasets include many variables that could be used as points of comparison:

  • Current schools with cases
  • Current schools closed
  • New cases
    • Student-related
    • Staff-related
    • Unspecified
    • Total
  • Recent cases
    • Student-related
    • Staff-related
    • Unspecified
    • Total
  • Past cases
    • Student-related
    • Staff-related
    • Unspecified
    • Total
  • Cumulative cases
    • Student-related
    • Staff-related
    • Unspecified
    • Total

For an explanation of what constitutes a new, recent, or past reported case of COVID-19, and the mechanics of the Summary of cases in schools dataset, see our technical note (forthcoming).

Our interest is focused on “student-related” vs either “staff-related” or “unspecified” cases. We avoid problems of interpretation raised by the somewhat arbitrary classification of reported cases as “recent” vs “past” also by focusing on “new” and “cumulative” cases.

Figure 1 shows that numbers of new student-related cases fluctuate greatly from one day to the next.

New student-related COVID-19 cases
Figure 1. New student-related COVID-19 cases in public schools.

The numbers of cumulative student-related cases displayed in Figure 2 may make the increased number of cases of COVID-19 in public schools in the Fall 2021 easier to follow.

Figure 2. Cumulative student-related COVID-19 cases in public schools.

In Figure 3, we move from displaying counts of cases to counts of schools with current COVID-19 cases. We have to confirm that the Ontario government’s definition of “current” case is equivalent to “new or recent” case.

Current schools with COVID-19 cases
Figure 3. Current schools with COVID-19 cases.

Finally, Figure 4 suggests that administrators resisted closing schools in the face of greater numbers of COVID-19 in the Fall 2021 until near the end of term. Further analysis is needed to understand decisions to close schools in general and to compare these decisions in the Fall 2020 vs the Fall 2021.

School closures related to COVID-19 cases
Figure 4. School closures related to COVID-19 cases.

Conclusions

The Ontario government’s daily reports of COVID-19 in the province’s public schools indicate more student-related cases, more schools infected, and more schools closed due to COVID-19 in the Fall 2021 vs the Fall 2020. The more concerning picture that emerged in the Fall 2021 almost certainly preceded any impact of the Omicron variant. Public schools are scheduled to re-open on January 3, 2022, with no special guidelines for managing the latest wave of the pandemic safely.

Credits

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. If you use this work, please credit Paul Allen, paul@hartallen.com.


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