Santa Clara County schools prepare for COVID-19 outbreaks
Students at Merritt Trace Elementary School. Photo courtesy of SJUSD.

As schools in San Jose complete the second week of in-person classes, administrators are preparing for COVID-19 infections and outbreaks.

“We anticipate there will be COVID-19 cases in schools,” Santa Clara County officials said in a statement to San José Spotlight. “However, we have to balance the risks of COVID-19 in schools with the considerable harm that comes from children missing in-person learning.”

Most of the county’s 263,000 students returned to school on Aug. 18. Local school administrators say the priority is to keep students in class as much as possible.

Schools follow guidance from the state and county to determine how to handle COVID-19 cases and outbreaks. Jennifer Maddox, spokesperson for the San Jose Unified School District, said in-person instruction is the best possible experience for students. The district is not offering hybrid instruction, but individual students have the ability to enroll in a remote independent studies program with weekly or daily check-ins, depending on their grade level.

“We anticipate that we won’t have a school closure this year,” Maddox said. “We are in much better shape than many other school districts across the country who have much lower vaccination rates.”

Though local schools are mandating masks on campus, there are still concerns about large outbreaks. Thousands of positive COVID-19 infections have arisen in school districts around the nation, according to news reports. More than 3,000 students at a school district in Florida had to quarantine between Aug. 13-16.

California requires all teachers and school workers to be vaccinated or to take weekly COVID-19 tests. About 80.2% of eligible Santa Clara County residents are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, according to a presentation made by Santa Clara County Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody last week. The rate of COVID-19 cases for those younger than 12 is lower than that for unvaccinated residents age 12 or older.

Cody said she expects emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine to be extended to children younger than 12 as early as late September.

California’s guidance says that an unvaccinated student in “close contact”—within six feet for 15 minutes or more—of a person who tested positive at school can still attend class if they mask up and are asymptomatic.

“If universal masking is not in place and students were exposed while not wearing a mask (for example, less than six feet apart from the COVID positive person during lunch) then that child would need to be quarantined at home,” Mary Ann Dewan, superintendent of the Santa Clara County Office of Education, told San José Spotlight. “If a school/classroom were unable to determine which children were unmasked near the positive child then the entire class (or grade level for example at recess) would need to be quarantined at home.”

Glenn Vander Zee, superintendent of the East Side Union High School District, said students are careful to wear their masks.

“Our students are choosing to keep their masks on, even when outdoors,” Vander Zee said, adding that the district notifies parents if someone at the school tests positive for COVID-19. “We’ve got all the proper (personal protective equipment) in place.”

Schools are required to notify the county health department if there is a positive test result among students, teachers or other school workers. A county official said local schools are only required to notify parents whose students may have been exposed to someone who tested positive. For example, if a first grader tested positive at a school, parents of students in the fifth grade would not be notified.

The superintendent said district students are happy to be back in school, and that students, teachers and other employees need to remain vigilant in order to keep everyone safe and in class.

“Kids have been out of school for 17 months… Our sophomores and freshmen never really had a full high school experience, it’s brand new to them,” Vander Zee said. “There was some initial anxiety, but what our students are telling us is, it’s good to be back.”

Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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