More than 2,800 COVID-19 cases recorded at York County schools during school year

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
York Academy Regional Charter School teacher Keri Schmid shows second-grader Samiha Storms how to apply a COVID-19 test Thursday, Feb 4, 2021. School nurses, Megan Halloran, background left, and Marla Urey visited the classroom while students did the testing which is part of the new pandemic protocols implemented at the York City school. Bill Kalina photo

More than 2,800 cases of COVID-19 were recorded in York County schools throughout the academic year, although the true total is likely much higher. 

At least 2,861 cases were recorded since August, according to data from 13 of the county's 16 school districts.

The totals for each district ranged from less than 100 to more than 400 cases linked to school buildings within the year. On average, each district recorded about 220 cases among students and staff. 

York County has recorded more than 38,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, according to the state Department of Health, meaning that cases recorded at local schools make up at least 7.5% of all cases recorded in the county. 

Three districts — Hanover Public, West Shore and West York Area  — did not respond to requests for their total number of cases. Two other districts —York City and Red Lion Area — provided data but did not have the total number for the full school year.

Red Lion started recording cases on an online dashboard starting Nov. 30, soon after local districts signed attestation forms agreeing to comply with state COVID-19 guidelines. Since then, the district has recorded 157 cases. 

York City started recording cases as of Jan. 25, just before reopening its school buildings under a hybrid learning model in February. Since then, the district has recorded 85 cases. 

More:York City School District to begin reopening buildings

More:All York County school districts signed Wolf's form to stay open

Instructional models adopted by county schools during the pandemic ran the gamut from fully in-person to fully remote learning, with many districts offering multiple options to students and adapting their schedules during the year to follow shifting state and national guidance. There doesn't appear to be a strong correlation between in-person learning and higher case totals, as several districts that offered in-person learning still kept cases low. 

South Eastern School District and Northeastern School District were at opposite ends of the spectrum, with South Eastern recording the fewest known cases at 83 this school year and Northeastern recording the most known cases at 404. Both districts relied primarily on in-person learning throughout the school year. 

South Eastern Human Resources Director Tracey Kerr said the district offered students three learning options: fully in-person learning, hybrid learning and fully remote learning. Of the district's roughly 2,300 students, she said about 65% opted for in-person learning five days a week. Despite this, she said the district didn't record its first case until about six weeks into the school year. 

"If you go out there and do what's right, you can keep kids in the classroom," Kerr said. 

Kerr said it's likely that more than 83 students or staff in the district contracted COVID-19 during the year and were not recorded because of the way district officials tracked cases. The district recorded all confirmed and probable cases if the individual had been inside a district building within 48 hours of reporting their case. Anyone who was not inside a building within that period was not recorded on the district's online dashboard. 

Kerr attributed the district's low cases to multiple factors. She said all staff and students took the district's safety protocols seriously, particularly social distancing. South Eastern's remote learning strategy had students attending live lessons from home instead of completing independent assignments, keeping students from congregating outside the classroom, which Kerr said was an issue at other districts.