Surveillance begins after delays
The Santa Barbara Unified School District began COVID-19 surveillance testing this week after nationwide shortages delayed the arrival of test kits.
The district discussed the testing during its board meeting Tuesday. Staff tested 129 elementary-age students and detected one COVID-19 case.
Since the school year began Aug. 16, 38 students and 14 staff members have contracted the virus. A total of 13 student and 3 staff cases were recorded between Sept. 9 and Tuesday’s meeting.
Dr. Frann Wageneck, assistant superintendent of student services, is not aware of a confirmed on-campus transmission but is monitoring a classroom that had multiple cases.
“We reported that to Public Health, and so we’re watching that. But we still don’t know if it was circumstantial or if there were transmissions,” she told the board.
Parents have to opt their students into the district’s COVID-19 testing through an online permission form. As of Tuesday evening, 64% had opted in.
The testing is mandatory, though parental permission is legally required.
The remaining 36% are families who may be unaware of the form, experiencing technical difficulties or are trying to resist testing.
“Our principals are having conversations with families who have concerns about the testing, answering their questions. There’s a lot of information out there, as we know, a lot of misinformation,” Dr. Wageneck said.
Some parents have told the district they are worried about chemical agents on the swabs, but Dr. Wageneck compared the swabs the students use to a Q-tip.
“Those swabs have nothing on them,” she said, noting a chemical is added after the swab leaves students’ hands.
Board member Laura Capps spoke about protecting children and expressed frustration with emails she receives with links to misinformation.
“What kind of signal is that to our children, that we’re relying on bogus information, and they are the ones being harmed,” she said.
Ms. Capps is the mother of a Santa Barbara Unified student.
“I’m a bit discouraged hearing about all that continues to be lost, the fact that CIMI camp is potentially going to be canceled for so many kids, or math clubs and extracurriculars,” she said.
Superintendent Dr. Hilda Maldonado acknowledged the disappointment as the district imposes more restrictions.
“The delta virus really threw a wrench in everything we were thinking about in terms of opening school, of what things were going to work like. And we have found ourselves having to become more and more restrictive as we monitor the cases,” she said.
Staff have been encouraging masking at football games and other large outdoor events, even when public health orders do not mandate masks.
The district has verified that 86% of staff are vaccinated; 2% are in progress; 8% have yet to confirm vaccination status, and 4% have no desire to be vaccinated.
The 8% who have not responded to district requests for proof of vaccination are currently undergoing weekly testing.
Board President Kate Ford inquired about the legality of stricter vaccination mandates after asking about the testing status of the vaccine-resistant 4%.
“I’m also very interested in the implications and the legality for the board about mandating any further vaccinations. So I’d love to have Dr. Maldonado consider this as a possible discussion item in the future as we find out more about the mandate — and in particular, the implications it has for a board to make that kind of decision,” she said.
The question was not discussed during the meeting but presumably may be in the next meeting agenda.
The district updates its case count weekly at sbunified.org/support/covid-19-resources.