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Alameda County health officer gives ‘best’ and ‘worst case’ scenarios for when schools can reopen

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CASTRO VALLEY, Calif. (KRON) — As July turns into August, Bay Area parents are anxiously waiting for word on when schools will allow students back into classrooms. Many parents mentally survived spring and summer by reassuring themselves that, surely, by the new 2020-21 school year, teachers would be welcoming students back for in-person instruction in the fall. COVID-19 had a different plan.

A second surge of coronavirus cases prompted county and state public health officials to hit the brakes on reopening. Gov. Gavin Newsom said a record-breaking number of new California cases, nearly 13,000, surged within just 24 hours last Wednesday; the highest number recorded in a single day since the pandemic began.

The state created a COVID-19 watch list of counties that are being monitored for worsening trends. Every San Francisco Bay Area county is currently on the list.

“Until Alameda County is off the State Monitoring List for 14 consecutive days, all Alameda County schools may only provide distance learning to their students,” Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe wrote in a July 17 news release. To get off the list, a county’s COVID-19 indicators must fall below the state’s threshold for three consecutive days.

Monroe acknowledged the stressfulness of tasking parents with the juggling their jobs and homeschooling their kids at the same time. Figuring out plans for the fall is frustrating for many families.

Distancing Learning
Distance learning can be lonely for children. (Getty Images)

“This is not a place that any of us wanted to be to start a new school year. This pandemic continues to present great challenges to our education system. We acknowledge that this has been another period of fast-changing circumstances and that families may be feeling confused and overwhelmed by all of the information they have received this summer, and by yet another last-minute shift,” Monroe wrote.

Students are struggling too.

“Students need to be in school. Statistics already show us that significant learning loss, compromised social-emotional health, and a precipitous drop in child abuse reporting are among the many factors impacting our children while they are out of school,” Monroe wrote.

Alameda County’s new Public Health Officer, Dr. Nicholas Moss, said if the schools are allowed to reopen too soon and before it’s safe to do so, schools could cause a third COVID-19 surge.

How long will this situation last?

KRON4 asked Moss, what the “best-case” and “worst-case” scenarios are for when Alameda County schools will be able to reopen for in-person learning.

“Alameda County is still on the watch list and we are on it because of our case rates. They have been high for throughout the month of July at a level that suggests we have continued community transmission of COVID. To get off the watch list, we need to have three days below the state’s thresholds for certain indicators, and then we’re in the clear. We’re really focused on case rates and hospitalizations. We’ve had a big increase in hospitalizations. Our overall case numbers in Alameda County are very high; almost 11,000 cases reported since the start of the epidemic,” Moss said. 

“We are firmly committed to getting children back into schools safely. But we do have to balance that against what we are seeing on the ground,” Moss said. 

What is the best-case timeline scenario for when schools will begin to reopen? “I am hopeful we will be in that place sometime in August,” Moss said.

“Based on what we’re seeing right now. (But) it could change,” he cautioned.

What is the worst-case scenario?

“Worst-case scenario is that we determine that the epidemic is under enough control that there is a way to get back to safe, in-person learning, but it’s a challenge to actually get all of the pieces in place for each school. And it takes several more months before schools are reopening,” Moss said. 

Moss said even when county public health officials give a green light, each school district and school must put many new safety measure and changes into place. 

Nola Eaton, 6, writing at home while her school is closed due to COVID-19. (Getty Images)

Monroe and Moss wrote in a joint statement, “We realize that when our students and teachers are able to return to classrooms, school will not be a ‘normal’ experience in our COVID reality. It will look, feel and be different. But our classrooms remain critical places for learning and growth.”

Ultimately, how long classrooms stay closed is directly connected to the choices that each Alameda County resident makes on a daily basis. Schools can’t reopen until the case rates of COVID drop. And case rates can’t drop unless everyone in the community does their part to stop the spread of the virus, by social distancing, wearing facemasks, and avoiding gathering in groups, Moss said. 

“We are asking residents to do everything they can to protect themselves and each other. That’s going to help us get things under control,” Moss said. 

Read More: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s and the California Department of Public Health’s guidance for the 2020-21 school year.

BAY AREA CORONAVIRUS CASE NUMBERS AS OF JULY 31:

ALAMEDA COUNTY: 11,131 CASES, 182 DEATHS

SANTA CLARA COUNTY: 9,731 CASES, 190 DEATHS

SAN MATEO COUNTY: 5,398 CASES, 118 DEATHS 

SAN FRANCISCO: 6,423 CASES, 58 DEATHS 

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY: 7,577 CASES, 116 DEATHS

MARIN COUNTY: 2,763 CASES, 45 DEATHS 

SOLANO COUNTY: 3,520 CASES, 37 DEATHS 

SONOMA COUNTY: 2,842 CASES, 32 DEATHS 

NAPA COUNTY: 865 CASES, 8 DEATHS 

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