When students and teachers return to the classroom on Aug. 9 the same COVID-19 precautions that were in place at the end of the last school year will still apply.
They will also have new guidelines to follow when it comes to contact tracing and quarantines, with the goal of keeping students in the classroom while also protecting them from possible renewed spread of the coronavirus.
Tracy Unified School District Superintendent Brian Stephens said that the district will adhere to state guidelines, which the California Department of Public Health re-released on Monday. The new guidance document acknowledges that COVID-19 infections are down and vaccinations are up, but the coronavirus is still a threat, and schools must continue to be at the forefront of curtailing the spread of the virus.
Stephens echoed the state health department in acknowledging that each school district will have to decide how to enforce the new guidance. This includes protocols regarding visitors on campus, and enforcement of mask policies.
In some cases, the mandates are clear. For example, while the wearing of masks is optional in outdoor settings, all students, teachers and other adults are required to wear masks indoors.
“We’re going to start the year with teachers and students wearing masks in the classroom,” Stephens said.
He did note that vaccinations and increased availability of testing have changed the daily routines of school district staff. For example, vaccinated individuals can work in their own offices without masks, but pandemic rules, including the mask mandate, still apply when interacting with students and the public.
“If you deal with the public you’ve got to put a mask on,” Stephens said. “It’s what we’re told we have to do. I don’t have a say in it.”
Stephens added that just like last year, the rules could change depending on any number of circumstances. The state already has cited Nov. 1 as the next date by which new or updated masking requirements will be considered.
“It’s still going to be a year that has challenges and changes,” Stephens said.
The new guidance released by the state puts an emphasis on getting students back in the classroom for full in-person instruction. To that end, the state is encouraging vaccination for everyone eligible to get the vaccine, and with everyone wearing masks in the instructional environment the need for physical distancing is reduced.
The state is also emphasizing targeted quarantine practices, and a more robust COVID-19 testing program. The approach that the state health department recommends takes into account the new variants of COVID, such as the more contagious Delta variant, as well as the range of public attitudes about mask-wearing and vaccination.
Safety measures, in addition to masks and proper ventilation of indoor spaces, include protocols for when students or adults in schools appear to be sick. Once someone goes home sick, all symptoms of illness must clear for at least 24 hours before that person can return, and they will need a negative SAR-CoV-2 test, or a note from their doctor stating that the symptoms of the illness are confirmed to be something other than COVID.
The new guidance also includes quarantine recommendations when cases are reported in schools and contact tracing shows that unvaccinated people came into contact with a person who tested positive for the coronavirus. In cases where masks are used students and adults who came in contact with someone who tested positive can return to the classroom, but the list of quarantine rules includes increased testing plus standards on the duration of the quarantine while continuing to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.
The new guidance continues to recommend personal hygiene and regular cleaning and sanitation of share areas, including food service and eating areas.
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