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Parents are concerned about COVID-19 data from El Paso County military installations



SHRINGRBIMET COLORADO, Colo. (KRDO) – Dealing with a coronavirus pandemic, El Paso County Public Health made maps available to people to see how close the spread is coming – but are local military installations preventing accurate mapping of the disease?

A KRDO NewsChannel 13 investigation revealed a missing piece of COVID-19 data, and some parents fear they could prevent school districts from having a full picture of the local spread when they decide to reopen classrooms.

The El Paso County Health Department said Thursday that it is not allowed to publicly issue COVID-19 case numbers with a postal code when it involves military installations.

El Paso County Public Health COVID-19 tracker with zip code shows gaps around local military installations.

The matter stems from an order from the Department of Defense aimed at protecting national security. It prohibits local health departments from releasing information when someone tests positive on a military base.

However, KRDO found that it is not only military members of active duty who test the base. Military spouses, children and retirees have the right to be tested on the basis.

It is an issue that is particularly troubling for parents living in a school district with a large military population, like Melissa Ellenberger.

Ellenberger has spent the summer navigating how her daughter will spend her senior year attending County 49. She became more concerned when she learned D49 may not have all the COVID-19 data for a fraction of its students in connection with the army.

Ellenberger, a military woman, said she understands security concerns about the release of COVID-19 information about active duty members, but wonders if it is necessary to keep information from school districts about their subordinates.

“When dealing with the health and well-being of our children, you really need to take the safest course possible. And when we do not have all the numbers, it is even more important to err on the side of care,” Ellenberger said.

Peterson Air Force Base told KRDO about 25,000 people, or about 3% of El Paso County population, have access to their COVID-19 testing site. Air Force officials said all tests were subjected to county health officials and note that the base has a lower positive coronavirus rate than the city or county. Fort Carson had not provided information on our request as of Thursday.

To be clear, the tests that were done on the military installations were included in the total count in El Paso County, according to Public Health. Health officials do not spoil the results from specific zip codes as they do with tests in other countries.

“Whether a student is military or non-military, whether there have been exhibitions at a school or daycare, we will work directly with that institution to make sure they are taking the right steps to send children to homes who may be at risk of developing COVID and becoming infectious, or working to announce the determination that it is still safe to continue with personal tutoring, “Kimberly Pattison told the El Paso County Department of Health.

Despite concerns from some parents, local districts with links to the Colorado Springs military community say they are confident in the process.

District 49 told KRDO 23% of its students are affiliated with the military.

When asked about the lack of data, a D49 spokesperson sent us this statement.

“We trust our partners in El Paso County Public Health to inform us with the best possible information to support our decision to resume in-person learning. We also trust our partners in the military to honor the commitment of to be good neighbors with the Pikes Peak Region and to work with leaders such as the EPCPH to ensure that critical information is shared and made available in the public health and safety interest.

We are confident that the EPCPH and our military partners have acted only with the highest level of integrity in the interest of public safety, and
Circle 49 is confident that we are receiving complete information to guide our most important decisions for the safe return of personal learning. “

-David Nancarrow, Circle 49

Circle 20 said close to one in five of its student families have a connection to the military or federal workforce.

District officials say they work closely with health officials to monitor the ever-changing conditions during the pandemic.

“Almost 20% of the families in our district are connected to our local military installations. “Knowledge of COVID-19 testing data from military bases is included in local health reports, giving us a complete picture of infection levels in the region.”

-Allison Cortez with the District Academy 20

In District 8, 70% of students have ties to the military. The district said it is in constant communication with officials at Fort Carson

“We have a strong and close working relationship with the leadership and work of Fort Carson and we communicate with them regularly and we have historically on many issues related to the base that now now happens to involve a pandemic. We are in regular communication with “We believe we have security protocols to keep our students and staff safe.”

-Christian McGee with Fountain-Fort Carson District 8.

County health officials said that although they are unable to report military codes by postal code, they will use their knowledge of COVID-19 military cases to inform school districts.

“This is a community project that everyone should be involved in. So it’s not just the knowledge of the data. It ‘s making sure that if you have a student, you’re checking them for symptoms before they go. And that you you are keeping a low threshold when you choose to keep your student at home, “Pattison said.

But for some parents, that lost piece of publicly available data can help ease their mind.

“I’m nervous to send my child back without knowing what the real numbers are, versus a possible number of numbers we know and then a whole bunch of hidden numbers,” Ellenberger said.


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