A fourth-grade camping trip leads to an outbreak, from one high school to another. But even as the Covid case escalates and schools move toward the end of the school year, most California districts have not moved toward restoring the mask mandate.
This position has left many parents confused and anxious because they have witnessed or heard of covid prevalence among students after field trips and publicity.
Up and down California, school administrators are finishing the clock in hopes of overcoming the outbreak. The Berkeley school system and a few others have overturned their masks-optional policies and sent letters to San Diego District Guardians warning that masks could be restored if lawsuits continue to escalate. But most districts – including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland – have not revised their guidelines as summer approaches.
“I don’t plan on making any new recommendations in the last three weeks of school,” Dublin Unified Superintendent Chris Funk told KHN.
Among other reasons, administrators are reluctant to allow districts to face legal challenges. From the beginning, attempts to create statewide covid protocols for schools have met with occasional fierce resistance. Some districts, many of them rural, have ignored the California School Mask Mandate. In February, the Roseville Joint Union High School District, which enrolled about 12,000 students in Placer and Sacramento counties, dropped the mask rule despite a statewide order being enforced.
Another reason many administrators have told KHN that schools are not returning to the masks is that, although the case is on the rise, most districts follow county guidelines that would put public health warnings on the number of hospital admissions or pressure on locals. Health system. The hospitalization rate fell behind the positive case rate within two weeks. Still, hospital admissions are now low, probably due to the availability of vaccines and antiviral treatments.
“We must go beyond the mask mandate,” said Dr. Jean Noble, who directed the Covid emergency response at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. He said the virus no longer poses significant health risks to young and vaccinated populations and that people need to adapt to living with covid. This means adopting a “test-to-treat” approach, he said, rather than trying to prevent infection. The Biden administration is moving to a model where patients are examined and then treated with antiviral pills such as Pfizer’s Paxlovid or Mark’s Molnupiravir to reduce their risk of going to the hospital.
“I know my advice sounds scary to many, but Kovid is here to stay,” Noble said. “This is the last game.”
This can be a difficult sale for some parents.
When 40 out of 40 students in the Deterring Elementary School in the San Juan Unified School District of Sacramento County contracted covid after sharing a cabin during a sleep-away field trip, the school was overwhelmed when parents of other grade students were asked about their health. The school rules are about to change – and the fifth-grade camping trip, scheduled for June 1, will continue.
According to Raj Rai, the district’s communications director, though, it will monitor the district’s local situation and public health guidelines.
Some parents were confused or upset at the news that a fifth-grade trip would be on schedule, even though the district was following county health recommendations. Such confusion was a common occurrence in a school year marked by changing public health guidelines, said Melanie Allen, principal of Deterring.
“Although the information on the website was explicitly posted by the district, parents are constantly reaching out to school administrators to clarify the next steps for exposure or positive outcomes,” the principal wrote in an email to KHN.
Rising lawsuits have forced the Berkeley district to reconsider late – it has reinstated mandatory masking in classrooms from May 23 to the end of its school year, June 3. Superintendent Brent Stephens noted in an update on the district’s website that in addition to increasing student infections, the district could find alternatives to about half of its missing teachers. He said deputy commissioners are working in the classroom to cover shifts. The city’s chief public health officer has strongly recommended a return to mandatory masking.
Stephens writes, “Since we are not a health organization, we must rely on these experts to guide us.”
Few of California’s more than 1,000 school districts have joined the Berkeley system to make such decisions. On May 16, Pacific Grove school officials in Monterrey ordered that about 2,000 students in all classrooms be required to wear masks. Katrina Pauli, the district nurse, said the district was one of the few that linked its masking policy to the rate of lawsuits in Monterey County. Therefore, when those rates shifted from “low” to “medium” transmission, a mask mandate was triggered.
The board of trustees of the San Mateo Union High School District voted in early May to extend its masked mandate until June 1, and strengthened protocols following a campaign in San Francisco in April that resulted in an outbreak among 90 students out of the 600 in attendance. .
These districts are in the minority, despite statewide covid growth. About 20 schools in Marine County were hit by the outbreak in early May. And in the Dublin School District, East Bay, the rate quadruples from March to April and continues to rise in May. These schools have not reconsidered their optional mask policies.
Schools in Yellow County Davis have not reinstated the need for masks despite a growing number of cases, as the county health director has stripped mandates from a positive test rate.
“We have substantial protection against the virus, especially with Paxlovid available in test-to-treatment locations,” said John Fout, a spokesman for the county. Only increased hospital admissions will put pressure on the healthcare system, he added.
At the moment, the rise in serious illness may not be recognized until the end of the school year – and that’s what many school administrators seem to be counting on.
The story was produced by KHN, which publishes the California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.
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