New York City school bus, Dec. 7, 2020.
The COVID-19 Report Card, a long-running collection of public health data from schools across New York, has been taken offline.
Concerned New York City parents noticed this week that the report card’s webpage — schoolcovidreportcard.health.ny.gov — now redirects to the New York State Department of Health’s main page on its COVID-19 response.
But the pivot was made over the summer, according to Cadence Acquaviva, a spokesperson for the state health department. The agency also wouldn’t rule out shuttering other COVID-19 trackers in the future.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have provided New Yorkers with an unprecedented amount of data in real time on cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities from COVID-19,” Acquaviva said via email. “While the Department does not have any immediate plans to change specific COVID-19 data trackers, we are constantly evaluating the utility and presentation of data and will continue to update and change our data pages as necessary.”
Health experts worry the closure of the COVID-19 Report Card is coming at an inopportune time. Another surge is expected this autumn and winter, and the data trackers can help people make better informed decisions about their public health.
“We have increasingly been asked as citizens to make decisions on our own,” said Dr. Denis Nash, an epidemiology professor at CUNY’s Graduate School of Public Health. “In order for our elected leaders to enable us to do that, we need access to high-quality information that gives us a sense of what's happening in the population.”
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo required all schools in New York state to report COVID-19 cases among students and staff in early September 2020 — after the first wave had abated and classrooms gradually reopened statewide. The report card was a one-stop shop for tracking infection trends in individual schools.
Acquaviva said the state health department and the state Department of Education ended the long-standing requirement on June 30, as schools closed their doors for the summer. On Aug. 22, the two agencies sent a letter to schools informing them of the decision.
A screengrab of the New York COVID-19 Report Card from Aug. 31, 2022.
Individual districts, such as New York City schools, can still collect and report COVID-19 data — the state is just no longer amassing the data for the public. The report card’s archive made its last update on Aug. 31.
The state health department did not answer questions on why the change had been made and if it had anything to do with people largely pivoting to at-home COVID-19 tests. Some New York counties and other jurisdictions compile results from these personal tests as means of bolstering public health, but state officials don’t collect this information.
The sunsetting of the COVID-19 Report Card also comes ahead of the gubernatorial election — in which the state’s pandemic response has become a contentious topic of debate. In recent weeks, Gov. Kathy Hochul has allowed her pandemic emergency powers to expire — altering the speed at which the state can acquire COVID supplies — and rolled back mask requirements on public transportation. Some disability advocates claim the latter decision was politically motivated.
“COVID is a collective action problem. It requires everyone to be on the same page and understand what things that they need to do,” Nash said, “whether that be the superintendent, the health commissioner teacher in the classroom, a parent, or a kid.”
Statewide, COVID-19 cases have slowly declined in recent weeks, following the spring rebound and summer plateau driven by omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5. About 2,000 New Yorkers are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 — which has been the case for most of the summer. But some regions — Central New York, the Mohawk Valley, and Western New York — are starting to see hospitalizations creep up.
Hospitalization due to the coronavirus remains rare for New York minors. Nationally, the pandemic has killed 524 kids so far this year, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 27 pediatric fatalities happened in New York — which is already an increase compared to 2021.
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New York City school bus, Dec. 7, 2020.