San Mateo County, CA — Due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and a decline in ICU capacity, San Mateo and 10 other Bay Area counties will be under a mandatory Regional Stay-at-Home Order. On December 3rd, the Governor issued the order, which applies to regions where the ICU bed capacity has dropped to less than 15 percent. The Bay Area region as a whole has hit that marker, and the stay-at-home order will take effect tonight, Thursday, December 17, at 11:59 p.m.

The regional stay-at-home order will impact many business sectors and activities in the county. However, 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.

While yesterday’s news does not impact schools, San Mateo County’s status in the Purple Tier of the State’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy has affected 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. Middle and high schools that have not yet returned students to campus for in-person learning will need to wait until the county is in the Red Tier for two consecutive weeks before they can begin to do so.

The news that schools have remained open have left some people scratching their heads. However, according to data collected by San Mateo County Health, the spread of COVID-19 is not occurring in local schools, but rather through informal social gatherings outside of the school environment. Many San Mateo County schools, particularly those serving elementary students, 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.

Given their large sizes and the complexity of course schedules, the county’s public high schools have not returned students to campus for in-person learning. However, they have created opportunities to return small groups of students for targeted support and engagement and have been developing plans for returning students once the conditions allow.

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), San Mateo County Health (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 shown to be effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19 in schools, daycare, and early learning settings. These 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.