Two days after officials welcomed back students to on-campus instruction, about 100 students and staff across a San Diego County school district were ordered to quarantine due to Covid-19 infections reported across various K-8th grade campuses — raising questions about whether schools in the region are ready to reopen their doors.
“While the quarantines so early in the reopening are frustrating and concerning, positive Covid cases and quarantines were not unexpected,” Escondido Union School District Superintendent Dr. Luis Rankins-Ibarra said in a statement to CNN.
The challenging environment created by Covid-19 has impacted schools nationwide as teachers and students grapple with the new reality of distance-learning models, wearing masks, and social distancing, following the recommendations of local and state health officials.
After months spent learning online, many officials are eager to reopen classrooms, which has sparked debate over whether it is safe to return to in-person learning.
In Escondido, 8,700 students across 23 campuses were enrolled in their hybrid model learning program that began Tuesday, with students divided into cohorts and attending school in-person at different portions of the day.
Yet, despite those measures, seven individuals tested positive across various Escondido school sites and attended in an infectious state, resulting in the quarantine of 81 students and 15 staff members, Escondido Union School District told CNN.
The impacted schools this week were Farr Avenue Elementary, Pioneer Elementary, Rock Springs Elementary, and Mission Middle School, according to the district. Students and employees that have been affected have returned to distance learning.
District officials said meticulous contact-tracing confirmed these positive cases were not transmitted at schools, but rather from individuals who are extended family members of those who stepped foot on the various campuses.
“Our city struggles with a high case rate, and our community includes many multi-generational families. This makes for a challenging environment,” Superintendent Rankins-Ibarra said. “It is unfortunate that individuals still come to campus while they are awaiting Covid test results or after having close contact with someone who is positive, or while they are feeling ill,” he added.
The superintendent emphasized families should keep their children at home if they are “sick in any way.” He said safety continues to be a top priority and “very strict health and safety standards” will be heightened at the school sites. He also said district officials believe they can sustain on-campus instruction in the hybrid model moving forward.
“We are doing everything possible to ensure a safe environment for our students and employees while they are on campus,” Rankins-Ibarra said. “However, we cannot control the environments off campus,” he said.
Prior to the outbreaks, the health and safety protocols in place included temperature checks and verbal questionnaires to all students about symptoms and exposure before entering classrooms, school officials said. Classrooms had portable air-filtration systems and spacing between desks. There was also a maximum of 12 students in a classroom at both the elementary and middle-school levels. It is unclear how the safety standards will be strengthened following the latest positive cases.
While data in San Diego indicates the start of a downward trend in case rates and hospitalizations, the county has reported a total of 244,069 positive cases and 2,777 deaths since the start of the pandemic. It remains in the purple tier, or the strictest tier of California’s coronavirus reporting system, which requires the closure of many non-essential indoor businesses.
On Friday, San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency marked another grim milestone, reporting its first pediatric Covid-19 death. The deceased was a 10-year-old boy with underlying medical conditions, officials said.