San Mateo County, CA—In an effort to slow the rise in COVID-19 cases across California and assure hospital capacity for everyone who needs care, Governor Gavin Newsom announced yesterday a plan to implement additional restrictions for regions whose ICU hospital capacity drops below 15 percent. San Mateo County will not be immediately impacted, but local hospitals are part of the regional and State healthcare landscape and we expect the Bay Area may reach that threshold soon. Many Bay Area counties have implemented additional restrictions in advance of the State restrictions.
When triggered, the regional stay-at-home restrictions will impact many business sectors and activities in the county. However, they will not impact the operation of schools. According to the order, “schools that have previously reopened for in-person instruction may remain open, and schools may continue to bring students back for in-person instruction under the Elementary School Waiver Process or Cohorting Guidance.” Additionally, according to the Governor, child care and pre-K programs are allowed to continue serving children and families, as long as the appropriate preventative measures, including face coverings and physical distancing, are followed.
“The Governor, the State, and public health officials all recognize the critical role that schools and early learning settings have in meeting the developmental needs of children and youth, which is why they are allowed – and even encouraged – to remain open for in-person learning,” noted Louise Rogers, chief of San Mateo County Health (SMCH). “Because of their leaders’ diligent planning and careful implementation of the COVID-19 safety protocols, we remain convinced that keeping schools open is the right decision.”
Many schools in San Mateo County have been providing in-person instruction to students for weeks, if not months, and have demonstrated that they can do so safely. These schools, which report that students are engaged and thriving, are a bright spot in an otherwise challenging world. According to data collected by SMCH, the spread of COVID-19 is not occurring in local schools, but rather through informal social gatherings outside of the school environment.
While yesterday’s news does not impact schools, San Mateo County’s recent move to the Purple Tier of the State’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy did affect the timeline for the launch of in-person instruction for some schools. As a condition of the Purple Tier status, schools that had not yet started returning students to campus are now required to apply for a waiver for students in grades TK-6 or wait until the county is in the Red Tier.
All schools with students already on campus for in-person instruction submitted a reopening plan that was reviewed by the San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE), SMCH, and in the case where a waiver was required, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). These plans follow the guidance included in the Pandemic Recovery Framework (PRF) and provided by SMCH and CDPH. These plans include layers of protective measures that have shown to be effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19 in schools, daycare, and early learning settings. These measures include face coverings, physical distancing, hand washing and other hygiene protocols, health screenings, limiting gatherings, surveillance testing, and contact tracing, as well as ample education and reinforcement of these steps.
“There isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to bringing back students to campus; the conditions for learning in preschools and elementary schools is very different, for example, than those of high schools,” explained San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee. “Planning to bring back large numbers of high school students to a campus where they move between classrooms for every class is complex on a good day, but very challenging during a pandemic. We expect that it will take more time for large high schools to return to on-campus learning.”
Superintendent Magee added, “We are deeply appreciative for the support of San Mateo County Health, which has put in place clear health guidance, effective contact tracing protocols, training, and other supports to help early learning settings and schools return students and staff safely. We will continue to work closely, monitor conditions, and respond accordingly with the health, social emotional, and academic needs of our county’s students at the fore.”