Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Become a sustaining member and you could win a trip to Barbados!

N.H. School COVID-19 Dashboard Still Missing Dozens Of Cases

A  microscopic image of the first case of COVID-19 in America.
Hannah A Bullock; Azaibi Tamin / CDC

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services is struggling to keep an accurate count of COVID cases in schools.

Get NHPR's reporting about politics, the pandemic, and other top stories in your inbox — sign up for our newsletter today.

The state’s school COVID dashboard is missing dozens of cases, including in districts with substantial clusters. Bedford shows up on the dashboard as having four positive cases, though the district's internal dashboard shows 28.

The discrepancy between state and local data on COVID cases in schools is nothing new. The state says it is working to update the dashboard. But even as it collects data, state health officials only plan to follow up when there is a suspected cluster (three or more cases in a building.)

In a press conferenceyesterday with Gov. Chris Sununu, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette acknowledged that many cases will not be investigated.

“The clusters we know about, we are absolutely tracking,” she said. “We are giving assistance and having open communication channels with the school district, but the reality is that testing is so broad now that there’s likely to be cases we know nothing about.”

School nurses are tracking positive cases and reporting numbers to district staff and the state. In most cases, their data is the most up-to-date, but it’s only as good as the voluntary data they receive. Nurses rely on families to report when a kid tests positive, or on test results from in-school screening programs that families sign up for.

Bow superintendent Dean Cascadden says the district is trying to do its best with what families tell them.

“Is that accurate data? I have no idea,” he says. “You’re relying on people to report that data to you.”

Bow shows up on the state dashboard as having two cases, but by Cascadden’s count, it has 18. A cluster around Labor Day prompted the seventh and eighth grade, which had been mask-optional, to move to a mask requirement. The board will take up the questions of whether to continue this mask mandate on September 30.

The emergence of COVID clusters, recommendations by public health experts to mandate masks and continued disagreements between parents has many boards re-examining their mask policies this month. For now, the best information they’ll have on COVID cases will come from the school nurse’s office.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.