This afternoon, the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department and County Office of Education released guidance for reopening schools in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance is now out there, however, the reopening of schools is not guaranteed — it’s dependent on the containment of COVID-19 in the coming weeks.
The guidelines are designed to help schools plan for the possibility of reopening for in-person learning in the Fall, according to Dr. Mary Ann Dewan, Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools. The guidelines are not a promise that schools will reopen.
“It’s up to us,” said County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez. “We must all work together to make sure it is safe and healthy for our children to return to school in grades K-12 this Fall. That’s why it’s imperative for all our residents to continue wearing masks and social distancing when they leave home. Also please get tested.”
County of Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said they are monitoring a variety of factors when it comes to the COVID-19 situation within the County to help decide when schools can reopen and, when they do open, stay open. These factors include, but are not limited to, continually evolving scientific understanding of COVID-19; the number of current COVID-19 cases; the degree to which schools are contributing to community spread of COVID; the capacity of our health system to identify and care for cases and prevent transmission in healthcare settings; the availability and use of widespread testing to identify new cases; county residents’ ability to quickly and effectively isolate or quarantine themselves when sick; and our community’s continued cooperation in practicing physical distancing, using face coverings, and taking other preventive measures.
The County’s guidance covers local K-12 public and private schools. It provides detailed direction for schools on issues such as safe practices for in-class instruction, school arrival and departure, bus transportation, use of face coverings, handwashing, school cleaning, food service, extracurricular activities, and more.
The document also explains specific actions schools should take to prevent COVID-19 transmission and to respond to possible cases in the school setting.
Dr. Cody explained that the document has tailored guidance for young elementary students that differs from the guidance and expectations for teenaged high school students. The common themes include hygiene and sanitization, face coverings, and social distancing but the specifics vary depending on age. For example, face coverings are required at the high school and middle school levels but only strongly encouraged for the elementary school level. At the elementary level, keeping the students in stable cohorts is imperative.
Dr. Cody also explained that based on what they know about COVID-19, children don’t often spread the virus. According to the County’s “findings suggest that COVID-19 transmission in schools is likely to be less widespread than influenza transmission, that adult-to-child transmission is greater than child-to-child transmission, and that transmission risks among younger children appear to be lower than older children.”
The guidance document, along with the reopening requirements, also includes recommendations, for example, meals can be served “in classrooms or outdoors, instead of cafeterias or group dining rooms, wherever practicable.” And while taking students temperatures is a recommendation, the students and staff must be screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms.
Flexibility is a main theme of the document, said Dr. Cody. The County states that they know that exceptions must be made to protect medically fragile students as well as high-risk family members.
Dr. Dewan emphasized that in-person learning is best and distance learning is not an equal substitute, especially with the inequity that comes with distance learning. She stated that the goal is to have in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible, but to have remote learning as necessary.
The document currently limits activities like choir and there is no guidance for sports yet, but the County said that guidance for athletics will be provided in the future.
With the final decision on the horizon, schools will continue to plan in the event of any of the three possibilities — full distance learning, full in-person, and a hybrid. Even if schools do reopen in the Fall, the County wants schools to plan for the possibility of partial or full school closure, either short-term or for a longer period just in case.
Because the data regarding the impact of school reopening on COVID-19 transmission dynamics remains incomplete, the County said the will continue to revise the guidance accordingly.
The full guidance and additional information for schools are available at sccgov.org/cv19schools.