What will the COVID-19 school rules look like at CA K-12 schools?

COVID-19 case rates spike at the end of the school year, leaving many parents wondering what their children will find when they return to class in the fall.

While Sacramento County’s case rate showed early signs of stabilizing, down about 3% in the past week, its positivity rate has continued to climb, rising from 10.3% to 13% in the same sequence.

“There are some early indications that there could be a downturn, but it’s too early to tell,” county health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said in a Monday call with reporters. “We know that this most recent surge is caused by omicron subvariants.”

These subvariants are still infecting school children, and any kind of outbreak could trigger more mask mandates or other protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Immunization clinics are also popping up in schools to encourage families to get their school-aged children vaccinated.

But overall, if there is no change in the severity of COVID-19, parents can expect the same COVID policies schools had in place at the end of the 2021 school year- 2022: exposure notices, on-campus vaccination clinics, and very few physical exams. distancing on campus.

What will fall look like?

Local public health officials are monitoring case rates and hospitalizations to determine policies to implement in the 2022-23 school year.

“If over the summer we see a new variation or an increase in hospitalizations or deaths, and an increase in severity, we are more likely to see a return of mitigation measures,” said Nick Mori, planner of the Sacramento County Public Health Program.

Most schools no longer require masks. They also stopped requiring their employees to participate in contact tracing. Now they send blanket notices to families about possible exposures instead of identifying students and requiring them to self-quarantine.

Melanie Maldonado, left, and Maria Barrosa, both seniors at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento, wear their masks June 6 as they walk down the hallway between classes on the first day of a return to mandatory indoor masking at the City of Sacramento District Unified School. Hector Amezcua [email protected]

Contact tracing “was incredibly laborious,” Mori said.

When the omicron variant emerged in the winter, schools switched to a group notification model: notify anyone who may have been exposed and ask them to watch for symptoms and get tested.

“Part of the reason for this change was that the omicron moved through groups much faster than the other variants,” Mori said. “By the time you asked someone to self-quarantine, they already had it.”

Mori said keeping students and staff safe while minimizing school disruption will be a balancing act in the fall. Students and staff who become ill in the coming year should still stay home. And districts will rely on students to test for COVID-19 at home rather than on campus.

California distributes COVID tests at home

“Testing remains a key mitigation layer to detecting and curbing transmission of COVID-19 in school settings,” the California Department of Public Health said in a statement in May.

Nearly 80 million tests have been administered in schools and about 32 million over-the-counter tests have been distributed to local schools, according to the state.

The state plans to prioritize over-the-counter testing in the fall — rather than onsite antigen testing or PCR testing — because onsite school testing is expected to decrease in the fall.

The state plans to provide 15 million over-the-counter COVID-19 tests to all county education offices for public and private schools over the next several months.

Sac City reinstates the mask mandate. Could others?

Sacramento City Unified Schools reinstated their mask mandate starting last week after case rates began to rise, ending a two-month period in which students did not have to wear a face covering.

California lifted its statewide school mask mandate on March 12, though local districts can still choose to require face coverings.

The Sacramento neighborhood recorded nearly 1,100 virus cases among students in May, more than five times the previous month’s total. More than 240 staff members also tested positive for COVID-19 in May, nearly seven times the total in April.

Math teacher Benito Dimas wears a mask as he teaches students in the classroom at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento June 6, the first day of the return to mandatory indoor masking at the Sacramento City Unified School District. Hector Amezcua [email protected]

City of Sacramento unified parent Shawnda Westly said the mandate came after weeks of parents pleading with the district to reinstate the requirement. Westly helped start a petition, along with 700 other parents, in May to reinstate the mask mandate after district schools saw a spike in COVID-19 cases.

We are in a pandemic and the board is expected to meet all summer,” Westly said. “How will we be prepared for a surge in the fall?”

Many parents spoke at school board meetings in May and June in support of a renewed term.

On Thursday, Westly told council members she was worried about a new surge in the fall, and lifting a mask mandate over the summer could increase COVID-19 outbreaks in communities. schools.

“Without a mask mandate, teachers have no leg to stand on to protect their own health and that of all students in their class,” district parent Matt Van Zandt said in a written public comment. to the school board.

If the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are high, mask mandates could revert to additional mask mandates across the county.

The vaccine push

California health officials also plan to expand school-based vaccination to more sites as eligibility continues to grow among younger age groups.

Currently, children aged 5 and older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and a booster shot.

It is unclear whether COVID-19 protocols in K-12 settings will differ between vaccinated and unvaccinated students in the fall. The state health department strongly recommends vaccines for school-aged children.

And while vaccines are licensed for children as young as 5, Newsom said he is waiting for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to give final approval to the vaccine for children before moving on to requiring COVID-19 vaccines in schools. The state should not require students to be vaccinated to attend classes until July 2023 at the earliest.

Health officials are hoping for a plateau in cases over the coming year.

“It’s changing a bit and changing a lot,” Mori said of COVID-19. “As much as we like to predict what will happen over the summer, it could be a curveball.”

Kasirye also said it was too early to tell what will happen over time.

“Our hope is that we get to the top of this current surge.”

Michael McGough of The Bee contributed to this story

This story was originally published June 13, 2022 5:00 a.m.

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Sawsan Morrar covers accountability and school culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumnus of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Previously, she was a freelancer for various publications, including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.

Martha K. Merrill