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All signs point to a virus in retreat at CUSD — podcast

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com
The number of new student COVID cases throughout Claremont Unified School District continues to slow, leading officials to speculate that we “may be” on the good side of the Omicron surge curve.

“I think we may be able to say we’re over that hump, on the back end,” said CUSD Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources Kevin Ward. “Let’s keep our fingers crossed.”

That “may be” bit is important.

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There were just 48 new cases reported this week, bringing the year-to-date district total to a remarkable 1,473.

But this week’s numbers continue to indicate COVID is downshifting across the district. New cases increased by 67, or 5.2%, the week of January 24; they slowed to 4.9% last week, again with 67 new infections, and fell to 48 and 3.4% this week.

Ward said the district’s “fill rate” for substitute teachers was at 90% on Wednesday, a dramatic increase from about 50% in the chaotic weeks following winter break, when new cases were rising by as much as 180% week-to-week.

“That really indicates that our staff absences continue to fall,” he added.

Ward let out a hearty laugh when asked if the COURIER could dare report CUSD was on the other side of the Omicron curve.

“You know, I don’t know. I don’t know if we can make that determination yet. But at least with that one metric [fill rates] things are looking good.”

There’s that “may be” bit again.

Another indicator of the level of alarm in the community — the rate of PCR testing at CUSD’s four-a-week afterschool clinics — is also dropping. There were long lines and hour-long waits in early January, with each site administering up to 425 tests per session. This week there were about 40 tests given per day at those same sites, with no waiting.

The availability of home testing kits has also served to reduce reliance on PCR testing, Ward said.

Things have shifted so much that Ward even allowed himself to daydream a bit about a day when Los Angeles County Department of Public Health — the agency from which CUSD takes most all of its COVID cues — might one day soon relax its outside mask mandate.

“That would be extremely helpful,” he said.

State health agencies, with which the district also follows suit in many instances, have made clear the indoor mask mandate for students will remain in place well into the spring, Ward said.

“And that seems commensurate with the type of decisions that have been made thus far,” he added. “But if we can start having more availability for kids to get outside and take those breaks, that will certainly help.”

At this point it’s difficult to imagine a time where students and faculty will not be wearing masks indoors.

“Yeah. I mean, that’s the $10,000 question, right: when will we reach that threshold?” Ward said. “I don’t know if anybody has a real clear-cut picture of what that plan may look like. But, we’ll let the scientists make that decision and let L.A. County D.P.H. make that determination and we’ll follow the rules, like we have.”

Ward said he and his colleagues have been getting back to a less COVID-intensive workload, another sign that perhaps the Omicron segment of the crisis is in decline.

“Certainly that’s an indicator, and COVID still takes up good chunks of the day and chunks of the weeks, but it definitely feels a little bit more normal, if I can say that, this past week or so certainly than it did coming back from winter break in January.”

So for now, officials say it’s premature to declare CUSD on the other side of the Omicron surge. Stay tuned though. If new cases continue their downward trend next week, there may again be joy in Clareville. Maybe.

“I think anecdotally, I think it continues to head in the right direction,” Ward said, hedging his bet, like a good public administrator should.

Reported COVID numbers for CUSD were as of 9 a.m. Wednesday. Case numbers can fluctuate throughout the week. For the latest, go to https://claremont-ca.schoolloop.com/covid and click “COVID 19 Dashboard.”

 

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