Thousands of children have returned home from school today after infections piled up across the state following COVID-19 tests provided over the holidays. But how and when those students and many teachers will be able to return is a much bigger question.
Under California health guidelines, students have few options for returning to school after testing positive for the virus. They can bring a negative PCR test result, if they can obtain one, or complete a full 10-day quarantine or provide a doctor’s note to return to school in accordance with current state and local health guidelines. Some districts are allowing negative antigen test. Returning home test results is not allowed as a reasonable sanction.
California health officials recently adopted new federal guidance that reduced the recommended COVID-19 isolation and quarantine period from 10 days to five for people who tested positive but are symptom-free and test negative after five days. Schools are expected to move in that shorter timeline, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Meanwhile, the state is struggling to get the promised millions of at-home rapid tests in schools as quickly as possible.
“I have been told that the delay has been caused by the weather,” state superintendent Tony Thurmond told a news conference on Tuesday. “We are working round the clock to clear this backlog.
San Jose Unified, for example, dropped out of those tests on Monday and the district is unsure whether and when it will get it to distribute to families. San Francisco Unified received a consignment of rapid tests from the state late yesterday and is preparing to distribute them to each school to be handed out to students. In a statement Wednesday, the labor union representing teachers in the district said more than 620 San Francisco teachers were out on Tuesday, “exacerbating the current staffing crisis that puts the city’s students at a disadvantage.”
Districts such as Oakland and Berkeley Unified received their home tests on time, allowing those districts to identify hundreds of positive student cases before the start of the school year.
To meet the growing need for PCR tests, schools across the region are scrambling to increase testing sites and get children and teachers back into the classroom immediately.
Hundreds of children tested positive for the virus at school-hosting sites across the region on Tuesday. At the San Jose Unified District Office, Verona Nez said she tried to book an appointment at Kaiser Permanente for her two sons – students who attend schools in the district – after their father tested positive for the virus, but in January Haven’t found one yet. 12.
Students coming in contact with someone with COVID-19 are required to be tested and depending on their test results and whether they are symptomatic, they may have to be isolated from other students for a few days.
“They’ve been out for two weeks already and now they’re going to miss at least one more week,” Nunez said.
Nunez said the district’s requirement to bring in a negative PCR test is preventing her children from coming back to school until she is comfortable.
“They have to test negative today and again on Saturday, but the district doesn’t test on Saturdays,” Nunez said. “The earliest appointment we can get with Kaiser is 12th, but they need a negative PCR test to go back, so we have to come back next Monday.”
San Jose Unified District spokeswoman Jennifer Maddox said the district may increase the number of testing sites tomorrow after seeing higher-than-usual requirements and longer lines at their sites. The district currently offers PCR testing during the school week at three locations.
Ilana Samuels, a spokeswoman for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, said some districts are waiting to find out if they can update their protocols so they can use the rapid test kits they source from the state. ,
With thousands of children out of school this week, school officials, state leaders and parents are concerned about further learning losses and mental health risks from the pandemic.
Thurmond said Tuesday that state leaders and school officials are committed to keeping schools open and testing students as soon as possible. San Francisco Superintendent Vince Matthews shared a similar sentiment in a letter to the community on Wednesday.
Mathews wrote in the letter, “In-person learning provides the best form of instruction for our students, and even as the pandemic continues, we continue to believe that schools can provide social isolation and learning opportunities for our students.” A safe place remains in view of the harmful effects of the loss.”