Humboldt’s schools are open, and a lot of parents are afraid. They’re afraid that this school year’s loss of a minimum social distancing requirement — thus accommodating full classrooms — is dangerous. They’re afraid that this school year’s new “modified quarantine” protocol — which, under certain circumstances, allows exposed students to continue attending school in-person — is not proactive in mitigating in-school transmission. And they’re afraid that if student COVID cases do balloon into a situation that they themselves aren’t comfortable with — a situation that might lead some parents to pull their kids out of school — they won’t get to know about it.
That’s because data about COVID cases in local schools aren’t public. Schools are required to notify public health of positive cases, but public health doesn’t publish them.
And so community members are asking them to. On Monday, a parent launched a petition urging County Health Officer Ian Hoffman and public health to start publishing positive case numbers from local schools.
Supporters of the petition would like to see two sections added to Humboldt County’s COVID dashboard: one reporting the number of in-person students and school staff that test positive, and another reporting how many people have been exposed to COVID in schools. The petition recommends publishing data by region rather than by specific school.
“This current situation is so much bigger than individual schools or classrooms. Every school is required to be fully open right now. They don’t have a choice. Some schools have more resources than others (nothing new), but almost all schools are short staffed and overworked trying to keep kids safe. It’s an impossible feat to keep students and staff truly safe during in person learning given that COVID-19 is endemic (to use your word) in our county right now, but our schools are doing everything they can to mitigate risk,” the petition reads.
“How dangerous is it to send a child to in-person school? We don’t know. We need data to assess that, data that is not currently being shared.”
The petition had 329 signatures as of this writing.
Just a few days earlier, a different parent started a Facebook group meant to track COVID cases in local schools. The idea is that parents and teachers familiar with in-school cases will post what they know on the page, creating an informal database of which schools are getting positives.
So far the group — which was created on September 4 and now has 248 members — has identified ten schools that allegedly have positive cases.
A lot of grief in the Facebook group comes down to positive case protocols. When a student tests positive, schools do their own contact tracing and are directed to follow a flowchart developed by the Humboldt County Office of Education in partnership with Humboldt County Public Health, which is in accordance with California Department for Public Health guidelines.
The flowchart specifies that exposed unvaccinated students can undergo a “modified quarantine” if they and the COVID-positive person were both masked at the time of exposure. A modified quarantine allows the exposed student to stay in school if they get tested twice a week over the ten-day period following exposure, but the exposed student may not participate in sports or extracurriculars during that time.
When a school has a positive case, exposed students and their families are notified. Schools are not required to notify the families of unexposed students of a positive case.