Quarantines spike across CUSD campuses-podcast
By Mick Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org
The bad news is the number of Claremont Unified School District students quarantined due to COVID-19 infection or exposure rose sharply this week, with Condit Elementary’s outsized numbers deemed an “outbreak” by Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
On the good side, the district’s 10 sites remain open to in-person instruction, and officials are optimistic they will stay that way for the remainder of the academic year.
“I think it’s very realistic to expect we’ll be in school all the way through June,” said Claremont Unified School District Assistant Superintendent, Human Services, Kevin Ward. “I have no doubts that we can do this. It’s a community effort, right? Everybody has a role to play in this.”
Enthusiasm is mandatory, and positive visualization is helpful, but the truth is there is a long road ahead to June 2022 and the conclusion of the current academic term. And at the moment, the news is mostly grim.
Condit’s COVID numbers are higher than any other of CUSD’s 10 campuses. The north Mountain Avenue school reported 15 confirmed cases as of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday among its 690 students. By comparison, Claremont High, with 2,362 pupils, had nine cases. The district’s total student population is roughly 6,550.
Other COVID cases among primary schools include two at Chaparral, two at Mountain View, one at Oakmont, five at Sumner Danbury and one at Vista del Valle. El Roble Intermediate reports two cases. Sycamore Elementary and San Antonio High are still COVID free.
The district mandates a 10 day quarantine from the date of infection or exposure to infection, Mr. Ward said.
As of press time there were 343 CUSD students quarantined, 143 from elementary schools and 102 from secondary. This figure represents an overall jump of 98 from last week’s totals.
Additionally, the numbers the district reported last week—213 students in quarantine, 143 from elementary and 70 from secondary—were revised upward this week due to a CUSD reporting error.
The actual numbers from last week are 245 students quarantined, with 143 from elementary campuses and 102 from secondary sites.
Four CUSD teachers remained quarantined this week, with all scheduled to return to classrooms Monday, September 20.
There were four entire classrooms quarantined at Condit and one each at Sumner/Danbury and Chaparral last week. This week there are those plus one more at Sumner Danbury, one at Oakmont and two at Mountain View. At Mountain View, one of those quarantined was a classroom, the other a BLAST afterschool daycare program.
“That impacted a larger amount of students, about 60 kids, that come from multiple classrooms within the site,” Mr. Ward said of the BLAST closure.
Quarantining hits those students and families particularly hard, Mr. Ward said.
“These are parents that are working that don’t have the advantage of working from home, and you close down daycare for a week and it’s like, oh my goodness,” Mr. Ward said. “They’re upset. I get it. Most of them were very supportive, but a couple are very upset, and we understand that.
“But part of that sacrifice, part of that, ‘Oh crud, I’ve got to work from home for a couple of days, or whatever I need to do,’ is protecting everybody. And that’s important. We all have to kind of sacrifice a little bit to insure we can make it through this year.”
Investigators from Los Angeles County Department of Public Health determined this past weekend the COVID cases at Condit constituted an outbreak. The California Department of Public Health defines an outbreak as “at least three probable or confirmed COVID-19 cases within a 14-day period in people who are epidemiologically linked in the setting, from different households, and not identified as close contacts of each other in any other case investigation.”
Los Angeles County sent an “outbreak team” to Condit on Tuesday, September 14. The team inspected Condit’s COVID protocols and visited each of the four classrooms that had an exposure. The inspectors determined the school’s protocols were in line with state and county requirements, but did have three recommendations:
• Increased physical distancing in some classrooms, with desks further apart.
• Changing lunch protocols to allow for more space between students, including going to four lunch sessions, with fewer students at each session; further physically distancing seating at lunch tables from four to two students per eight-foot long table; and spacing students who choose to eat elsewhere at least six feet apart.
• More signage to remind students about good hygiene, hand washing, etc.
The county was due to be back at Condit late this week for a follow-up visit. The school still had four classrooms and one teacher quarantined at press time, all of whom were due to return to campus on Monday, September 20.
So why are Condit’s numbers so high in comparison to the rest of the district?
“They haven’t made that determination,” Mr. Ward said. “The good thing about the outbreak team that came in is it really kind of confirmed for us that the community spread—the spread amongst those students—was not really related to building protocols or operations. So there’s no real smoking gun for this one that clearly defines how the exposures were contacted.”
Sometimes outbreaks occur as a result of a busload of students who all picked it up in that enclosed space, or from students who all attend the same daycare facility.
“There wasn’t really one of those for this case,” Mr. Ward said. “It is what it is.”
Condit Elementary Principal Christine Malally remains positive in the face of the outbreak.
“Of course, we hope that we are through the worst of it,” she said. “The hope comes from the amount of support we are all trying to provide to each other to make sure protocols and procedures are followed, including the recent recommendations from the LACDPH.”
Ms. Malally answered somewhat guardedly when asked why Condit’s numbers represent the bulk of the district’s confirmed COVID caseload.
“All CUSD schools are following the same protocols and procedures,” she said. “As you can see from the dashboard, the majority of the positive cases were contracted outside our school. I think we have done and exceptional job intervening and containing these cases. The LACDPH outbreak team was extremely pleased with Condit and CUSD’s COVID protocols and procedures and our willingness to implement additional recommendations beyond the requirements.”
The hard truth is until the Delta variant is tamped down, COVID is going to be a thing at Claremont schools. And after that, there could be another variant. And another after that.
For now, there is some hope: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week moved California, along with just two other states, Vermont and Connecticut, out of the red “high” transmission category for COVID and into the orange “substantial” tier. And since we all know how quickly the tide can turn—the C.D.C. had California in its blue “low” tier in June—it’s reasonable to expect that continued vigilance will keep that trend continuing downward.
“I think that we’re going to experience positive students in our all schools,” Mr. Ward said. “This is kind of our life going forward. And I think what we’re charged with is making sure that our operations match the spread, or the numbers, or whatever you want to call it, within the community, to insure that that’s not happening.”
He went on to note that many people are once again getting together socially, more kids are playing sports and more are going on playdates.
“So you have a student that is positive and you have life going on, for lack of a better word, and they’re unvaccinated, because the vaccine isn’t approved for that age group, and masking depends on the family and those type of things … There’s a much larger kind of scope here.”
Mr. Ward added he was hopeful parents and caregivers of elementary-aged kids would soon have more peace of mind as they send their mostly unvaccinated students off to school, because roughly 87% of Claremont teens have been vaccinated.
“And if and when the vaccination gets authorized for the younger students, we can expect similarly high vaccination rates, partnered with the high vaccination rates among staff,” Mr. Ward said. “That, plus good protocols, that’s the key right there.”
The district is currently finalizing its staff vaccination compliance numbers. Those statistics will be available next week some time prior to the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Mr. Ward said.
Los Angeles County’s August 22 health order states public school teachers must produce proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing by October 15. Claremont tightened that deadline, mandating its 845 permanent staff show proof or agree to weekly testing by the first day of school, September 1.
A small handful of teachers—less than five, according to Superintendent Jeff Wilson—asked for exemptions from vaccination and/or weekly testing, citing religious reasons. The district is in process of evaluating those requests.
“This process can take a few weeks to complete so I would anticipate resolution/agreement, if reached, before the October 15 deadline for enforcement of the vaccination or weekly testing state mandate,” Mr. Ward said.
Mr. Ward had praise for CUSD kids and families who have been impacted by COVID.
“What I’ve seen thus far is parents who have been extremely reactive and proactive when we’ve had to contact them about possible exposure,” he said. “That’s what we need. We’re all in this together.”
The district updates its COVID dashboard sporadically throughout the week, and always on Tuesdays and Fridays. Go to https://claremont-ca.schoolloop.com to see the latest numbers.