Contra Costa Schools Begin Reopening As COVID-19 Infections Trend Downward


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Over 300 elementary schools have begun to reopen across California (Photo courtesy of Alex Starr on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Cheasanee Hetherington, Editor in chief

Following a summer-long battle against COVID-19, Contra Costa County has begun easing business and gathering restrictions while allowing some local schools to reopen. 

As of Sept. 4, 10 private schools had received approval waivers from Contra Costa Health Services and the California Department of Education. Currently no public schools in the county have been approved for reopening. Contra Costa Community College District has reopened. But, classes are currently held strictly online.

California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, created by the California Department of Health, reported that K-12 schools in counties with widespread COVID-19 infection, such as Contra Costa, must obtain a waiver stating the approval of their local health department and the California Department of Public Health.

As over 300 elementary schools reopen state-wide, more Contra Costa schools could soon be returning to in-person instruction as infection rates continue to fall. On September 4th Contra Costa Health Services announced online that “evidence shows a stabilization and improvement in new cases of and hospitalizations for COVID-19.”

Nation-wide a staggering increase in COVID-19 infections among children has been noted by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association. A joint report noted a 16 percent increase of pediatric infections between Aug. 20 and Sept. 3.

“These numbers are a chilling reminder of why we need to take this virus seriously,” said Dr. Sally Goza, president of the AAP, to CNN.  “While much remains unknown about COVID-19, we do know that the spread among children reflects what is happening in the broader communities.”

Reports from CCHS indicate that local infection rates are trending downwards. On Aug. 6, 8.8 percent of COVID-19 tests taken in the county were positive. As of Sept. 7, 6.2 percent of tests returned positive. State-wide California reports a 4.3 percent positivity rate.

The waiver application requires schools to have a comprehensive reopening plan for virus containment and prevention. According to the blueprint, they’ll also need to function in a smaller capacity per recent health orders.

Last week the California Department of Public Health released further guidance for reopening schools, recommending classes be conducted in groups, or “cohorts”, with 14 students or less, and up to two supervising adults present.

“Utilizing cohorts minimizes the number of people exposed if a COVID-19 case is identified in a child or youth attendee, provider, other instructional support provider, or staff member of a particular cohort,” reported the state health department.
These guidelines are expected to reduce the risk of transmission and make contact tracing more efficient.

Although CDPH guidelines are specifically intended for K-12 schools, similar rules may apply to reopening colleges and universities. In addition, waivers and comprehensive plans may also be required for higher education campuses to reopen.

Diablo Valley College is currently applying a hybrid model of largely online instruction, supplemented with some in-person lab and other course work done on campus. The school has created a reopening plan, which details preventative and containment measures as well as a checklist for students and faculty.