school stock

But child care facilities are showing outbreaks

Amid numerous virus outbreaks in child care facilities in three regions of Sonoma County, the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) is working with the state to open up in-person learning waivers for small cohorts of students.

“The State Department of Public Health is working closely with the Sonoma County Office of Education to determine guidelines for specialized in-person instruction,” Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said in a Wednesday briefing with Sonoma County Superintendent Steve Herrington. “Although we remain in the state’s purple tier, recent improvements in our latest case rates mean that we can now consider waiver applications from schools for in-person learning under specific conditions.”

In order to submit a waiver for in-person learning, schools have to meet some specific requirements, Mase said. The requirements include the submission of specific plans that address a spectrum of safety topics; schools must communicate and consult with staff, parents and community organizations about how to address specific concerns like what steps to take with regard to contact tracing and surveillance testing if they have a student or staff member test positive for the virus; documents that address the school’s plan for hygiene, social distancing, communication and other related areas.

Additionally, schools in counties in the state’s purple tier, which Sonoma County is in, can only apply for a waiver if it’s for K-6 students or students with special needs. Within that, the county is advising against granting waivers when the case rate that the district is in is less than 200 per 100,000. According to the SCOE plan, cohorts for students with special needs to not require approval from the county health department, rather it’s a decision made by local school boards.

Additionally, schools must limit cohorts to 14 or fewer students and must have systems in place to prevent cohorts from mixing.

Mase said that she will begin reviewing waiver applications on Thursday, Sept. 17. SCOE sent information to districts about applying for waivers earlier this week.

“We’re all concerned about the impacts of COVID-19, the pandemic, on education and we’re eager to see our children back in classrooms. But it’s important to remember that the reopening of schools, public or private, for in-person instruction ultimately is not determined by me, but where Sonoma County stands in its effort to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Mase said.

While some schools may be able to apply for waivers, Herrington painted a grim picture of the resources available to districts when it comes to tracking and monitoring for virus spread.

“Even if a school chooses to reopen, because the state, although it says in their guidance that they would provide support to schools with contact tracing, that’s not in place yet. Because the state has promised to make testing available to the staff, that’s not necessarily in place. The state has also directed health care providers to provide testing to school employees because they are deemed essential workers — that has been difficult to accomplish with some of our contract vendors such as the medical providers in this county, because they’re really saving their testing for exposed cases. Should a school choose to reopen, they have to have teachers or employees tested, 25% every week, to be an efficient operation,” Herrington said. 

Virus cases in those 17 and under

When breaking down Sonoma County’s COVID-19 cases in those age 0-17, Mase said that the majority of cases have occurred in through close contact at home.

“We test all kids in households (where there is a positive case) whether they have symptoms or not,” she said. “That’s where the majority of cases have come from.”

That said, Mase outlined instances where schools and child care facilities have had virus outbreaks. In Sonoma County, 12 schools and child care facilities have had known cases, with three clusters involving more than five cases and one ongoing cluster that has more that involves more than 30 cases. In total, the county has had 62 cases in schools that provide child care and child care facilities.

In north county, two facilities have had cases, central county has had seven facilities with cases and east county has had two facilities with cases. The one facility with 30 known cases and an ongoing outbreak is located in north county, Mase said. The facility has been closed for two weeks, since Sept. 3, per state guidelines. According to Mase, it appears that the first case at the facility involved a student.

Looking at schools, nine elementary, middle or high schools have been mentioned in case investigations, with three facilities in central county, five in north county and one in south county.

While the schools are all still operating under remote learning, they have a total of 16 students, two staff members and 15 family members with confirmed cases. In the age range of kids age 17 and under, the county’s public health department is still investigating 381 cases.

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