Dewan: Parents urged to COVID-19 test children weekly amid omicron surge
Kate and Nate Huynh wait in line with their mom Tiana to get the kid-size COVID-19 vaccines on Nov. 3, 2021. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

Health and education experts maintain that the risks from the COVID-19 infection are outweighed by the known and well documented social and mental health harms of remote learning, even during the current omicron surge. California’s determination to use every available tool to keep schools safe during this pandemic is allowing us to keep classrooms open and in-school transmission low.

The health and safety of students, staff and families remains a top priority and schools are committed to healthy environments for students and staff. Schools throughout Santa Clara County have been working diligently to ensure the safest classrooms amid the omicron surge.

As County Superintendent of Schools, I am deeply appreciative of the work of schools to use known risk-mitigation strategies including access to testing, and equally important, providing a level of consistency for students during this unprecedented time of change and uncertainty.

On Jan. 12, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released guidance for K-12 schools that noted in the event of wide-scale and/or repeated exposures, as we have been experiencing during the current omicron surge, once weekly testing may be implemented instead of sending individual exposure notification letters and contact tracing.

CDPH has reported that due to the shorter incubation period and increased transmissibility of variants currently circulating in California, alternative approaches that allow for a quicker and broader response will allow schools to provide safe in-person instruction without typical contact tracing processes. This means that rather than sending individual close contact notifications, schools that use this approach can focus on weekly testing of students and staff.

Right now, this approach makes sense for Santa Clara County schools. With the height of the omicron variant and the potential for repeated exposure in the community, where exposures are not or cannot be communicated, a consistent approach to notification and testing helps families.

This is possible for schools because the multi-layered approach to COVID-19 mitigation in schools has effectively curbed in-school transmission to-date. Mitigation measures such as receiving COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, wearing quality and well-fitting masks, staying home and testing if symptomatic, and improving indoor air quality are core to school-based mitigation efforts.

With all of these measures in place, being exposed to someone with COVID-19 does not necessarily mean that a child will become infected. Vaccination and wearing a quality, well-fitting mask can reduce the chance of infection even if exposed. This means that children may remain in school unless they develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19.

Parents are strongly encouraged to have their children tested for COVID-19 once a week. By testing weekly, schools can efficiently identify anyone who has a COVID-19 infection, even if they do not have symptoms. Many schools have existing school-based testing programs and parents are urged to sign their children up. These programs make it easier for families to access testing resources and partner with their school. Families can also find a community testing site near their homes at www.sccfreetest.org. Over-the-counter tests are also acceptable for once weekly testing if they are FDA-approved.

Children with symptoms of COVID-19 or who test positive for COVID-19 must isolate at home immediately. Parents must notify the school right away so the school can take additional steps to keep the school community safe.

Children must continue to wear a quality, well-fitting mask indoors in school and community per school, local and state requirements. High quality masks with the best fit and filtration provide the best protection for your child and the school community.

COVID-19 vaccination remains the best way to protect against the spread of the virus and against severe disease. Make an appointment to get vaccinated or contact your child’s doctor or health care provider to learn more. For children 12 years of age or older, a booster dose is recommended five months after the second dose.

Now, more than ever, we must support one another. Every member of our community is going through different strains and pressures that require us to come together. When each of us does our part, we can protect the health and safety of our community while maintaining in-person learning in our schools.

San José Spotlight columnist Mary Ann Dewan is the superintendent of schools for Santa Clara County. She has more than 33 years of experience in the field of education. Her columns appear every third Monday of the month.

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