Minimal transmission detected
Center for Disease Control and Prevention research published Jan. 26 concludes that few COVID-19 transmissions occur in schools with precautions.
The study found that a few students contract COVID-19 on campus, but the rate of transmission is much lower than in the community.
It states “having attended gatherings and social functions outside the home as well as having had visitors in the home was associated with increased risk of infection; however, in-person school attendance during the 14 days prior to diagnosis was not.”
The CDC looked at schools nationally as well as internationally for transmission data. It references an outbreak at a high school in Israel that did not have good ventilation, exempted students from wearing masks and overcrowded classrooms.
Otherwise, transmission occurred in fractional percentages in schools with proper health and safety standards.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District’s on-campus cohorts (a select group of students in academic or athletic programs) have matched the study’s results.
A total of 1,395 students are in academic cohorts; 982 are in athletics, and 395 teachers and staff are on campus. COVID-19 cases have been detected in 77 staff members and 20 students as of Jan. 26. Eight of those cases were transmitted on campus.
The district is still pursuing on-campus learning on a hybrid schedule when allowed by public health officials.
Currently, Santa Barbara County schools are unable to reopen if they haven’t already.
In order for elementary schools to reopen, the county’s case rate must decrease to 25 or fewer COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents or around 111 daily COVID-19 cases. This is part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Safe Schools for All” plan, which also requires frequent COVID-19 testing and a thorough health and safety plan.
Junior highs and high schools may open campuses when the county maintains red-tier status for at least five days. The case rate for red tier is less than or equal to seven cases per 100,000 residents or just 31 daily cases.
The county’s largest districts, Santa Barbara Unified and Lompoc Unified, have remained in distance learning since last March.
“As a district, we are ready and prepared to reopen our elementary sites using a phased-in approach once we hit the 25/100,000 threshold,” Bree Valla, deputy superintendent at Lompoc Unified, told the News-Press. “Our current focus is on ramping up our regular staff testing and finalizing student scheduling.”
Lompoc Unified has submitted its health and safety plan to the state and is waiting for case numbers to drop before making the transition.
Most public districts are also virtual with the exception of Cold Spring, Montecito Union, Los Olivos and Carpinteria Unified elementary schools.
Cold Spring School, an elementary school in Montecito with approximately 180 students, was the first public school in the county to open its campus when it welcomed 90% of its students back Sept. 22 for five days a week.
“Because of our exceptional safety measures and extraordinary team, we have had zero COVID-19 transmissions from in-person learning,” Superintendent/Principal Dr. Amy Alzina told the News-Press.
Cold Spring School hired a larger custodial staff to clean throughout the day, check students’ temperatures with an infra-red monitor before class and installed heating and cooling systems for each classroom.
Students learn outside or in classrooms with windows and doors open. Classrooms range from 12 to 19 students to allow for six feet of distance between kids.
“Everyone on campus has embraced the opportunity to return and take the necessary steps to prevent transmission, which for our staff includes getting a weekly surveillance COVID-19 test,” Dr. Alzina said.
She also focused on making an easy transition between campus and distance learning so students can stay home when they feel unwell but still stay in attendance.
“The Cold Spring School Board was very supportive in our efforts to open school as were the teachers, staff, parents and community. We all rolled up our sleeves to create exceptional outdoor classrooms for our students,” she said.
Cold Spring’s efforts have been lauded by parents and community members hoping for the same for Santa Barbara Unified.
A large obstacle for Santa Barbara Unified is staffing. In the fall, administrators explained to the school board that the number of teachers available prevents the district from pursuing a five-day plan.
Instead, the district centered its protocols on a hybrid learning approach. It recently tested its classrooms’ ventilation with help from district parents that teach science at UCSB.
It is waiting for the community’s case rates to decrease, allowing remaining districts to reopen. The CDC’s Jan. 26 publication suggests community efforts to assist schools.
“Preventing transmission in school settings will require addressing and reducing levels of transmission in the surrounding communities through policies to interrupt transmission,” it said, giving the example of restricting indoor dining.