School crossing sign. (Heather Wieshlow/Lariat)
Students, parents, families and staff are faced with concerns of contracting COVID-19 if Orange County reopens public schools. On Sunday, Aug. 23, the county came off California’s coronavirus watchlist, with 5.4% of residents testing positive for COVID-19, significantly lower than the state’s desired threshold of 8%. If the decline continues, schools could begin to reopen as early as Sept. 22.
Across the country numerous schools have reopened, but had to close soon after students and staff contracted the coronavirus and were required to quarantine. According to the Washington Post article, teacher Alisha Morris of Olathe West High School in Olathe, Kansas has tracked over 700 separate COVID-19 cases and deaths of teachers and students at schools since March 2020.
To date, the Orange County Health Care Agency has granted 119 waivers to resume in-person classes at private elementary schools and one public school district, with more expected in the following weeks. All other elementary, middle and high schools have begun teaching online, with the future of in-person classes to be determined.
California’s community colleges are conducting mostly online classes, except for a few critical in-person classes. The California State University system colleges are also holding only online classes for the fall semester and the University of California system is expected to do the same.
Several precautions will be required by schools in order for them to reopen and effectively prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This includes wearing face coverings, practicing physical distancing, hand washing, sanitizing and staying home if you are ill. Other options discussed by school administrators, teachers and parents have included a hybrid of online and in-person classes, staggered times of attendance and periodic COVID-19 testing for teachers and staff.
If there is an outbreak at a school and several students become infected, schools could be required to close. If more than twenty five percent of schools in a district have an outbreak, they will be required to shut down all the schools in that area.
Opening the schools safely during a pandemic requires everyone to follow the CDC guidelines for protecting themselves and those around them in order to reduce the chances of transmitting COVID-19.