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School Safety Index Predicts K-12 COVID Policy Effectiveness

Health analytics company has created an online data tool for schools that analyzes virus cases, local conditions, and the layouts of buildings to help predict the effectiveness of specific COVID-19 policies.

An empty school hallway.
As schools seek to mitigate the risks of in-person learning in the face of the COVID-19 delta variant, officials are turning to digital resources for advice. To help, the health technology firm built an online data tool to predict the effectiveness of school health policies, down to each building and classroom.

According to a news release, the Maryland-based company recently developed its School Safety Index to inform administrators about best practices depending on specific school conditions. It also created a COVID-19 Transmission Risk Index to predict future outbreaks, and a Mortality Risk Index to identify geographical areas with the highest risk of deaths. CEO Ajay Gupta said the aim of the company was to provide schools with online guidance for safety policies after nearly two years of shifting to and from virtual learning.

“Research has shown that more than half of the student population nationwide have lacked the motivation and engagement to successfully learn in a remote setting,” he said in a statement. “Our goal for the School Safety Index is to provide administrators with the accurate data insights they need to make well-informed decisions and safely return both students and teachers to the classroom.”

Gupta told Government Technology the platform asks administrators to describe their schools, local conditions, and the layouts of each building and classroom in order to gauge the risk of spread. The platform is part of a suite of health risk data tools offered by the company.

“We got our start by analyzing social determinants of health data down to specific locations, as they impact the health outcomes and the cost for individuals, patients and populations in those locations,” he said. “When COVID-19 broke out, we developed a number of AI models and public health models to track the spread of the disease so we could identify where the disease is going, how it’s spreading and who is at risk of becoming sick from the disease.”

According to Gupta, school and public health officials can use the platform to determine whether a classroom could use plexiglass barriers or whether a school should shift to remote or hybrid learning, among other mitigation strategies.

“Based on our understanding of the social determinants of health in that region, the COVID case counts and other health outcomes of that region, we can assess the risk of disease transmission in the school, but with no COVID mitigation put in place,” he said. “Then we can assess the value of any mitigation, whether they’re masks, social distancing or reducing class sizes, or any changes that may take place.”

Even though millions of students were vaccinated before returning to school this year, Gupta said the virus could remain a threat to K-12 districts in the years to come as an endemic — a regularly occurring disease in the population. Gupta said it’s important for schools to look to data to mitigate the spread of other common school illnesses such as the flu, to say nothing of future pandemics.

The index is among several similar data platforms available to schools online, including a COVID-19 K-12 School Testing Impact Estimator developed by the data analytics company Mathematica, which measures the effectiveness of school COVID-19 testing policies.

“What we need to do is start looking at how, in our everyday lives, we can operate schools,” he said. “We have the opportunity to adjust infrastructure to reduce the risk of disease transmission to not only address the current pandemic, but maybe on a permanent basis reduce the spread of seasonal flu.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.