Orinda Schools Maintain Optimism Amid COVID Transmission

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    As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Orinda area schools are rolling with the punches and remaining optimistic.
    As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Feb. 3,

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the U.S. are declining after peaking in the middle of January, but transmission of the virus within Contra Costa County remains high. The CDC reports that as of Feb. 10, 84.8% of Contra Costa residents five years of age or older are fully vaccinated, with an 11.2% positivity rate within the county population.
    “Things definitely got worse for us, in a sense that there were more students out due to COVID-19 during the omicron surge,” OUSD Superintendent Aida Glimme said on Feb. 9.
    Orinda Union School District (OUSD) staff and student COVID-19 cases have been tracked via a publicly viewable dashboard, updated twice a week, since the beginning of the in-person school year in August, with the longitudinal data showing positive cases fluctuating beneath five for most of the fall. Cases peaked at 81 the week of Jan. 3, coinciding with the return of students and staff after Christmas break.
    As of Feb. 6, there have been 262 confirmed positive student COVID-19 cases reported to the OUSD Health Team since the school year began. Twenty-eight staff cases have been recorded within the district in the same time frame. The district dashboard cautions that positive cases do not necessarily indicate transmission on campus.
    Numbers for the week of Feb. 7 include 25 confirmed student cases and two confirmed staff cases.
    According to OUSD’s COVID-19 information and resource page (www.orindaschools.org/covid19information), staff and students must conduct daily symptom screenings and, in the event of exposure to the virus, may be asked to quarantine from school or work, depending on the type of exposure.
    Since January, the district has been utilizing the group-based tracing method as outlined by the updated California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidance. Students who have shared an indoor airspace with an infectious COVID-positive individual for more than a cumulative total of 15 minutes within a 24-hour period are to be notified of their exposure.
    These new guidelines stand in contrast to contact tracing individual “close contacts” who were within six-feet of a COVID-positive person.
    District schools continue to provide filtered air ventilation within its instructional spaces and, in response to the January surge in cases, conduct lunch and snack times outdoors, according to the OUSD website.
    Glimme spoke of a significant increase of students who were out in isolation, with most students reporting mild symptoms, but required to isolate nonetheless. Following the CDPH guidelines of isolating for five days, students that have tested positive for COVID-19 are allowed to return to school on day six post-isolation, with a negative test result.
    The school district has not suffered from a significant staffing shortage due to the surge. “We were spared during the pandemic,” Glimme said, with most omicron COVID-19 cases among classified staff, such as classroom aides. The district was able to adequately cover absences from its pool of substitutes.
    Glimme highlighted that OUSD utilizes COVID-19 testing for students and staff and provides tests to the community three times a week at no charge.
    Wagner Ranch Elementary School Principal Jim Manheimer expressed optimism regarding the ongoing pandemic within the school environment, noting some challenges with the need for substitutes, but “not bad.”
    “We feel good that it feels like omicron is waning,” said Manheimer. The students have been “super compliant” about wearing their masks indoors, he said, noting that the wearing of masks outside is optional.
    “We feel good that we will experience school even more fully in the coming weeks and months,” he added.

Andrea Madison can be reached at drea.madison.05@gmail.com.

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