The number of COVID-19 cases in the Santa Barbara Unified School District has jumped by 29 so far in April — with the most monthly student cases reported since September.
Parents in the district have been buzzing in recent days with the amount of COVID-19 positive case notifications hitting email in-boxes.
Of those 29 cases reported so far in April, 25 have been among students and four involved staff.
Overall, since September, there have been 176 confirmed cases throughout the district, which includes kindergarten through 12th grade.
Nearly 65% were student cases, and 10 are presumed to have been transmitted on campus, according to the school district.
In March, there were 21 COVID-19 positive cases. Of those, 15 were among staff and six were students.
According to data provided by the district, 51 staff members tested positive for the virus in January, so while the trend of staff testing positive has dropped, the number of students with the virus is on the rise.
Since September, 107 of the cases have been staff and 69 of them were students.
In mid-March, Santa Barbara County’s move to the red tier allowed junior high and high schools to restart in-person classes. Santa Barbara Unified School District then expanded the in-person schedules in early April so students could attend more days of classes per week.
High school sports restarted in March as well, with weekly testing required for student athletes and coaching staff.
District officials said the spike in cases is likely due to the resumption of athletic competitions. The district board of trustees will discuss the situation at its Tuesday night meeting.
“The vast majority of the positive cases in the past six weeks have been among student athletes, with a handful of cases being reported amongst non-athletes K-12,” assistant superintendent Frann Wageneck told Noozhawk. “This increase in positive student cases does coincide with the start of athletic competition and the testing teams that are considered by the state to be higher risk of contagion.”
Wageneck downplayed the seriousness of the positive cases by saying the people testing positive may have been infected as long as three months ago.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance shows that people can continue to test positive for up to three months after the original infection and not be contagious to others.
The county’s Public Health Department has required PCR testing for the weekly athletic team testing, but now recommends the district switch to antigen testing, which is meant to capture active infections, district spokeswoman Camie Barnwell said.
Moving forward, athletes competing in high-contact and indoor sports will be tested twice a week with a rapid antigen test, which gives results in less than 48 hours, Wageneck said.
If the results come back positive, that student will then take a PCR test to confirm the result.
“It is believed that this process will eliminate positive tests for those who were asymptomatic in the past,” Wageneck said.
Dos Pueblos High School has had a handful of cases or close contacts over the past two weeks, but cases have since been trending downward, according to Principal Bill Woodard.
“Even more important for me, with our systems in place and our procedures for quarantine and contact tracing, we are able to isolate these specific cases, and feel confident that our students are safe to be on campus,” Woodard told Noozhawk.
Public Health guidance requires that students must be sent home to isolate for at least 10 days if they report any symptoms, answer “yes” to a health screening question, or have a temperature at or above 100.4 degrees.
Infected students are sent home from school for 10 days after symptoms arise, or 10 days from the testing date if they are asymptomatic.
When a student tests positive, a district nurse assigned to the school works with the student, their family, and school administrators to determine who they were in close contact with during the time they were contagious, Wageneck said.
The student and the campus community are notified when there is a positive case, she added.
Close contacts — those who have been within six feet of the infected individual for 15 minutes or more — must also be sent home and excluded from school for 10 days from the last exposure, according to Public Health.
These students are recommended to seek testing five to seven days after the exposure, but a negative test result will not shorten the 10-day exclusion.
The students who are sent home participate in distance learning during the isolation period, according to Wageneck.
Camie Barnwell, spokeswoman for the district, noted that enrollment in the district is 12,408, while staff, including walk-on coaches, is 2,150.
— Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.
— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.