COVID-19 Keeping Orinda Schools on Its Toes

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(Courtesy of OUSD)
Orinda Union School District Superintendent Aida Glimme said they’re closely monitoring every COVID-19 case among their student and faculty population. COVID-19 cases have receded since the district resumed on-campus instruction on Aug. 11.

    Amid the recent emergence of new strains of COVID-19, students and faculty returned to in-person learning at schools across Orinda in August armed with knowledge and now bolstered by a shrinking number of confirmed cases of the virus.
   “We’re closely monitoring every case story,” said Orinda Union School District (OUSD) Superintendent Aida Glimme.
   COVID-19 cases have receded since the district resumed on-campus instruction Aug. 11, as shown by the OUSD COVID-19 dashboard on the district’s website. From the beginning of the school year until Sept. 3, there were 14 confirmed cases and 84 quarantines in OUSD’s student population. Thirty-nine of those quarantined were under modified orders and attending in-person class with the stipulation of twice weekly testing for the virus.
   As of Sept. 6, just one new confirmed student COVID-19 case and 28 student quarantines, 15 modified, were recorded, along with two positive staff cases.
   Superintendent Glimme credits diligent behind-the-scenes monitoring of the situation, in addition to student willingness to don their facemasks and practice adequate social distancing, with keeping the schools’ population healthy. She noted students testing positive were exposed to the virus outside of school and from family members.
   OUSD’s online COVID-19 dashboard, updated twice a week, states school communities are notified directly of positive or close contact cases by the District Student Services Team.
   How are the recommended safety protocols and guidelines affecting the learning environment in Orinda’s classrooms? Fortunately, they are “not a major factor,” Glimme said. “We see really active learning and engaged students.”
   The district has provided additional mental health support on campuses, such as increased counseling, to help lessen the effects of the additional stresses of attending school during a pandemic.
   The Orinda News was unable to reach a representative at Orinda Academy for comment.
   Holden High School, a private school in Orinda comprised of 35 students and 19 faculty members, has had no positive COVID-19 cases thus far into the ’21-22 school year, which kicked off Aug. 25.
   “We’re following all of the California Department of Education protocols,” said Holden High’s Clinical Director and Freshpeople Advisor, Jennifer Payne.
   Hand-washing and masking up indoors and outdoors, except when eating, has helped to keep the students and faculty of the private school healthy. COVID-19 tests are conducted at the school every Monday, and the faculty has a procedure flowchart to follow in the event of positive cases.
   John Nickerson, Superintendent of the Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD), remarked that the safety protocols the district is employing have been effective thus far into the school year.
   The district contact-traces potential cases thoroughly, and families participate in a community testing program to help prevent the spread of the virus in the school environment. Rapid testing on campus is another useful tactic in the effort to keep students and staff healthy.
   “We knew going into this year, we would have cases,” Nickerson said.
   With classes commencing on Aug. 10, 15 positive COVID-19 cases among staff and students were recorded the following week but have since continued a downward trend.
   No cases were reported for the week of Sept. 6.
   “It has been going really well, definitely a downtick in the last few weeks,” Superintendent Nickerson said, adding, “The kids have been great, [with] zero pushback on inside masking.”
   AUHSD has responded to students’ mental health needs with wellness centers that offer social and emotional support. Nickerson acknowledged the uncertainty and loss associated with the pandemic and its effects upon the students, but also commented upon students’ resilience.
   “[It’s] not so much the stress of attending school in this [COVID-protocol] environment, but more about what has happened in the last eighteen months.”
   According to CDC.gov (https://bit.ly/3u7fAxt), COVID-19 cases have nationally passed the 40-million mark recently, pushed upward by the highly contagious Delta virus variant. Contra Costa County has a higher rate of residents who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine—84.6 percent, compared to a rate of 73.4 percent in the rest of the country, as reported by Contra Costa Health Services.
   The California Department of Public Health provides specific safety measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in the K-12 in-person school-learning environment. Facemasks and optimized ventilation indoors play a significant role in infection prevention in California’s schools.
   Orinda’s Dr. Lloyd Takao, M.D., F.A.A.P., with 40 years in the pediatrics field, acknowledged that in-person learning in schools will inevitably lead to more potential exposure for schoolchildren, but also notes that COVID-19 cases have been fewer than initially expected with the commencement of the school year.
   “This whole year, we’re going to see more cases,” Dr. Takao said. Still, ‘It’s been better than I thought. I think it’s because most of the parents are smart and basing their opinion on science and not what they read on Facebook.”
   Dr. Takao said school districts across Bay Area counties differ in their procedures and protocol when it comes to handling positive virus cases and quarantining potential exposures. He added that sending a positive case and the resulting exposures home for two weeks, and testing the quarantined exposures twice a week makes a difference.
   During those two weeks, students sent home can keep up with their studies virtually and be sent back into the classroom when they test negative for COVID-19.
   “I think [in-person instruction is] worth the risk,” added Dr. Takao. “Things are better and I’m proud of the parents for being conscientious.”

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