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County Schools Supe: Untangling the Confusion Over Covid Tests, Boosters and Safety for Kids

By Susan Salcido

As schools across Santa Barbara County reopen following the winter break and prepare for a successful return, I wanted to take a moment to reconnect with our community.

We are welcoming our students back at a time when surging COVID-19 case rates have created new layers of uncertainty and concern for our schools.

From interpreting new COVID-19 guidance to addressing increased testing needs, we find ourselves navigating through challenges, yet again. At the same time, we are filled with gratitude that our students are able to return to school in person, which, for the majority of students, is the best and safest place for them to be.

Although full in-person status could be compromised in the future by increasing COVID-19 cases, as of today, all Santa Barbara County schools are returning from winter break to in-person instruction.

A word of thanks. We are equally grateful for our teachers and school staff as they continue to educate and care for our students. As I visit classrooms and programs, my appreciation for our education community grows exponentially.

School teams collaborate to deliver innovative, meaningful, personalized instruction for their students. Staff connect youth and families with invaluable and available mental wellness support in and out of schools. Early childhood educators read books to infants, assist children as they count dollars earned in their imaginary spaces, and transform energetic classrooms into quiet zones by singing a special song.

Thank you, educators and school teams, for the monumental effort and energy you put into building relationships, educating our children, and supporting our communities by tending to the health, safety, and well-being of all youth and students.

A search for clarity. The Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) continues to convene regular and frequent meetings with school leaders from across the county and Santa Barbara County Public Health (SBCPH) officials to review and outline COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Given the multiple agencies that provide updates like the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CA Department of Public Health (CDPH) and SBCPH, it is critical that we have as much clarity and consistency as possible so that we can communicate with our school communities clearly and accurately.

Here is an example of a new update and how it impacts schools: the CDPH provided updated COVID-19 guidance on December 30, 2021. This guidance calls for reducing isolation and quarantine time periods from 10 to 5 days for the general public, excluding health care personnel. The guidance currently only partially applies to TK-12 school settings.

To be clear, the updated COVID-19 guidance does not yet apply to any TK-12 school employees. For TK-12 students, only the isolation guidance applies at this time. Further, guidance for youth settings outside of school, and including preschool, is expected to be updated by public health in the coming days.

Cal/OSHA regulates school employee policies and the CDPH Schools Guidance provides recommendations for student isolation and quarantine periods. Local public health officers also make decisions for counties based on those regulations. For these reasons, schools rely on updates from Cal/OSHA, CDPH, and local public health officials before changing existing policies in schools.

A look at testing. In addition to keeping track of the changing policies for handling positive COVID-19 cases and close contacts for students and staff, we are also mindful of the need and demand for COVID-19 tests.

SBCEO is pleased to have partnered with Aptitude Clinical Diagnostics - a local COVID-19 testing provider founded by three PhD graduates from UC Santa Barbara who are serving dozens of local public and private schools, colleges, universities, government agencies, preschools, and childcare centers across Santa Barbara County.

Even with in-county testing opportunities for schools, we still have an increased need to access rapid tests. SBCEO is expected to receive a shipment of at-home, rapid test kits for distribution to all county TK-12 public school districts in the coming days.

According to this announcement by the Governor’s Office, each TK-12 student will receive 1-2 test kits (excluding districts that previously received test kits and/or have other direct sources for at-home test kits).

Preschool and childcare centers have also been provided with information about how they may request test kits at no cost from the CA State COVID-19 Testing Task Force. In addition to the tests set to arrive at SBCEO, we are seeking additional tests for private schools, preschools, school employees, as well as future test kit deliveries after this one is complete. Further information from SBCPH regarding COVID-19 testing may be found HERE.

Vaccine boosters. In response to frequently asked questions related to booster eligibility for youth, California currently awaits approval from state officials for boosters for youth ages 12-15. If approved, this could be announced soon. (The FDA and CDC have each completed its approval process.) In California, youth 16 and older currently may receive a booster. SBCPH resources regarding vaccines and boosters may be found HERE.

In Santa Barbara County, as much as we all are committed to keeping schools open, rising COVID-19 cases may impact our ability to fully operate all programs and schools in-person; there may be a need to shift to remote learning for some classes or schools at some point in the future.

While remaining optimistic, we will also need to be adaptable as circumstances will continue to change in the days and weeks ahead.

To our county’s families, community members, and partners, thank you for caring so deeply about the health and well-being of our youth and school employees, and for continuing to unite in strong support of our schools. Best wishes to all for a happy and healthy 2022.

Susan Salcido is Superintendent of the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

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