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Cases down, but new variant is of concern at CUSD

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

Notwithstanding the worldwide concern about the new Omicron variant, the COVID news out of Claremont Unified School District was decidedly sunny as classes resumed this week following the Thanksgiving break.

Though its COVID infection numbers rose slightly, as of noon Wednesday, there were no school exposure cases at all across the district.

“We have a couple of positive cases,” said Claremont Unified School District Assistant Superintendent, Human Services, Kevin Ward. “They are home-related. They are not school-based exposures.” It’s “things like parents tested positive, those types of things.”

Subsequently, districtwide quarantines fell dramatically this week, to just 14. Claremont High School reported eight students out; Sumner Danbury Elementary had four; and Mountain View Elementary saw two kids isolated. There had been 196 CUSD students quarantined the week prior to the Thanksgiving holiday and 79 the week before that.

“I think from a planning perspective we watch our numbers, which, as we were just looking at, are relatively low,” Ward said. “Coming back from being a week out of school that doesn’t surprise me. I would anticipate they will pick up as we get further past that time.”

A jump this time next week would certainly figure, as many folks traveled to be with family for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, most for the first time since COVID took hold nearly two years ago.

“We’ll continue to watch [the numbers] and see if we have any spikes or any issues, and if that warrants any changes in our protocols,” Ward said.

The district’s COVID mitigation protocols haven’t changed significantly since in-person school began for all CUSD campuses September 1. But the Omicron variant comes with a host of unknowns, most pressing being whether the current suite of vaccines and boosters will be effective against it. Testing is underway.

“We’re obviously, like everyone, keeping up with the news and seeing what is going on in the world and if cases come to the United States,” Ward said Wednesday morning.

The first U.S. case was detected in Northern California just minutes later.

If the worst happens and cases spike, causing schools to shut down again, either partially or fully, the good news from the district’s standpoint, and for students and families as well, is the learning curve has already been established.

When CUSD abruptly closed its 10 campuses on March 13, 2020 — for what everyone at the time thought would be a few weeks at the most — we knew very little about would come to be known as “distance learning.” It was a difficult transition.

Nearly two years later, CUSD administration and teachers are well-versed in all distance learning arrangements. Using the online classroom software Canvas is old hat for teachers, as are those dreaded Zoom classes. If the option is hybrid, with some students at home and some in schools, the laundry list of now commonplace protocols — from air purifiers, masks and hand sanitizer to temperature checks and physical distancing — no longer stand in the way of business as usual.

“So I think as a district we are much better prepared for these shifts to partial remote environment, full remote environment and going back to doing temperature screenings and those type of things at the beginning of the day,” Ward said. “We have all of that and we have all of the logistics planned and have experience doing them. So I think any changes that we need to make will be more fluid than up to this point.”

If cases do begin to tick up toward the crisis levels we saw a year ago, the district would likely revert back to limits on sports and other afterschool program participation, and using cohorts to limit possible exposure to smaller groups, Ward said.

“In the schools right now you’re seeing more of kind of the regular recess, regular lunch, they’re outdoors,” Ward said. “Those things can be dialed back very quickly to decrease a potential spread, rather than just automatically shifting from the way we are now to a completely remote environment. I think you would see those steps pulled back first.”

The district’s overall year-to-date COVID case numbers looked like this as of 12:30 p.m. Wednesday: Chaparral Elementary has remained at four on the year for the past three weeks; Condit added one new case over the past two weeks, bringing its total to 24; Mountain View held steady for the third week running at eight; Oakmont added one new case, for eight on the year; Sumner Danbury added two, for 24; Sycamore held at three on the year; and Vista del Valle added two new cases, leaving it with 11. El Roble Intermediate added six cases, for 17 on the year; Claremont High added two, for 74; and San Antonio High remained the district’s only COVID-free campus.

Please note that new cases can increase and quarantine numbers can fluctuate up and down throughout the week. The district’s COVID dashboard, at https://claremont-ca.schoolloop.com/covid, is updated as new information comes in. Please check there for the latest figures.

Appointments are available for anyone over the age of five to receive a free dose of the safe, readily available, FDA and Center for Disease Control and Prevention approved COVID vaccines at https://myturn.ca.gov.

Admittedly, one is struck by a queasy deja vu when imagining a possible return to the bad old days of widespread quarantine. The constant Omicron updates from the CDC and Prevention and news outlets aren’t helping things.

“I think it’s on everybody’s mind,” Ward said. “As the variants come out we’re all thinking and anticipating how, if this gets worse, what are we going to have to do or what will those changes look like? How dramatic will they be?”

Here’s to hoping for a minimal dose of drama. Haven’t we all had enough?

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