As many local school districts head back to classes for distance learning this week, Santa Barbara Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg announced Tuesday that the county will soon start accepting waiver applications for in-person school reopening.
Statewide public health orders do not allow schools to reopen for in-person learning within counties on the novel coronavirus monitoring list, like Santa Barbara County, but there is a waiver process for K-6 schools.
Ansorg previously said the county’s high disease transmission numbers prevented any schools from reopening in-person learning, but on Tuesday, after reconciling local numbers with state numbers, he said Santa Barbara County’s Public Health Department is finalizing a local waiver application for K-6 schools.
“Our significant decrease in the transmission rate makes us eligible to accept applications for waivers for elementary schools,” he told the Board of Supervisors.
The application will likely be available to districts on Friday, and letters will be sent to all school district superintendents to let them know of the policy change, Ansorg said.
Schools applying for reopening waivers will have to submit evidence they consulted with labor and parent organizations, and develop plans for reopening including daily health screenings, face screenings for students third grade and above (and recommended for all), and lots of cleaning, Ansorg said.
When reviewing applications, public health staff will review the plans and local community epidemiological data, he noted.
Ansorg said they will make sure schools have “small and stable cohorts of classes,” lots of staff training and family education, plans for testing staff and students on short notice, and triggers to switch back to distance learning if necessary.
Schools should allow for at least two weeks between submitting an application and planning to reopen (and that is if they get approved), Ansorg noted.
The state decided that counties will not rescind school waivers even if local disease transmission rates go up, since it’s “not fair” to parents or children, but public health departments will monitor schools closely and maybe require more frequent testing in that case, Ansorg said.
Santa Barbara County remains on the state’s monitoring list for reporting too many new positive cases of the novel coronavirus and a high positivity rate, but getting off the list for 14 days would allow more school reopenings, Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso noted.
County public health officials have posted a disclaimer on the data dashboards for more than a week while they waited for the state to clear a backlog of underreported cases, and Do-Reynoso said her staff has reconciled the numbers with the state as of Monday.
That gave her the confidence to proceed with the school waiver application process, she told the Board of Supervisors.
Do-Reynoso said the regions reporting the most cases have shown decreases in the number of new positive cases reported, including Santa Maria, Santa Barbara and Lompoc.
Goleta and Isla Vista have seen increases, and Isla Vista’s 255-percent increase over a two-week period is concerning, Do-Reynoso said.
“We believe this is reflective of the students coming back, the high-density housing in the community, increased social movements, and gatherings in Isla Vista,” she said.
Hospitalizations are decreasing countywide which is reflective of statewide trends, with 62 COVID-19-positive patients in local hospitals reported Monday.
As seen in Santa Maria and other regions of the county, “we can decrease our case rates,” she said.
Do-Reynoso urged everyone to continue following public health recommendations of wearing face coverings, maintaining physical distance from others, and avoiding gatherings and crowds.
“Be aware that we don’t always know someone’s underlying condition. We don’t know for certain when there’s contact with others who they’ve been with, and where they’ve been. It’s widespread in our community,” she said.
Check back with Noozhawk for an update to this story.
Santa Barbara County Region New positive cases reported in two-week period ending Aug. 4 New positive cases reported in two-week period ending Aug. 17 Increase or decrease Santa Maria 725 444 38.7% decrease Orcutt 55 34 38.1% decrease Guadalupe and North County unincorporated areas 68 52 23.5% decrease Lompoc 160 104 35% decrease Santa Ynez Valley 19 13 31.5% decrease Isla Vista 24 78 225% increase Western Goleta Valley and Gaviota 28 24 14.2% decrease Goleta 37 46 24.3% increase Santa Barbara and Mission Canyon 250 173 30.8% decrease Carpinteria and South County unincorporated areas 56 22 60.7% decrease
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