Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick said there's no "line-in-the-sand" criteria to determine when schools should be closed as reported cases at Washoe schools increase midway through the third week of classes.
Such a threshold wouldn't be "prudent," Dick said in a press call on Wednesday, because of the individual situations of each school and the uncertainty of the virus. The Washoe County School District has reported 17 cases across 14 schools as of Wednesday, and the health district plans to use incoming data to evaluate the safety of in-person schooling day by day.
"Establishing ahead of time that we're going to use this criteria and that's going to be it leaves us open to having some severe situations happening in individual schools. And if we've chosen the wrong indicators, it might never trigger a school closing," Dick said. "So we'll assess it as we move forward with this and we see what's occurring.”
Dick originally advised the school board not to reopen schools for in-person learning, but trustees voted to completely reopen elementary schools and do hybrid models of in-person and distance learning for middle and high schoolers. All families have the option of doing full distance learning at any point during the school year; Clark County School District has moved completely to remote learning.
"We're seeing what we expected to see with the … elevated levels of disease transmission that we have in the community. We are seeing cases that are occurring within the schools," Dick said in a press call on Wednesday. "That's what we anticipated that we would see."
The health district has not identified any cases where the individual caught the virus at school, according to Dick. He said he expects to start seeing cases from transmissions within schools in approximately the next week or two, although he is hopeful that preventative measures, such as mask-wearing, within the schools will help prevent the spread of the disease.
Dick said the health district has added additional staffing for contact tracing so that each disease investigation team of 10 to 12 staff members will have four people dedicated to tracing pediatric cases. This will help reduce transmissions in schools by ensuring students who test positive are not attending school and contact tracers are quickly notifying those who may have been exposed to keep them from attending school as well, Dick said.
Neither the health district nor the school district discloses whether the positive individual is a student, staff or faculty member, citing privacy concerns.
Meanwhile, the University of Nevada, Reno has reported 15 cases, including 12 students and three faculty members, since its first day of school on Aug. 24, according to the most recent available data. The university's hybrid model brought concerns from faculty, who were hoping for an option to opt-out of in-person teaching similar to what is offered at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The health district is working with the university as cases are reported. Dick said he's primarily worried about gatherings, a concern that applies to everyone but particularly social interaction-deprived college students.
"I think it's really important that all of the students understand their responsibility and are working to prevent the spread of disease, so that the university can remain open, and they can get the education that they're seeking," he said.