The Winters Joint Unified School District was among others in Yolo County to experience a wave of positive COVID tests and student exposures on campus shortly after welcoming students back.
Districtwide communications were delivered to families as a rise in positive COVID tests were identified among multiple Winters school sites. Robocalls went out to families who had students on a campus with an identified positive case, and school district nurses and staff worked diligently to make personalized follow up phone calls and sent letters home. Families who had a student directly impacted by a positive case were notified with a phone call and and email with details on next steps.
At the Sept. 2 Winters JUSD Board of Trustees meeting, Special Education and Student Services Director Josh Harris verbally reported the updated numbers as of Friday, Aug. 27 — which had practically doubled in some instances from the numbers in the presentation that had previously been submitted to Trustees.
From the beginning of school on Aug. 17 to the Aug. 27 date:
26 students had tested positive for COVID (six of them had been present on campus while contagious).
156 students were identified to being exposed via close contact at school. Harris noted that four of them were vaccinated. “Close contact” is defined as someone being within 6 feet for a duration of 15 minutes or more over a 24 hour period.
140 students participated in the modified quarantine model.
68 students stayed at home for the full 10 days following exposure.
Harris said students can quarantine at home for a variety of reasons, including those whose families opted to not participate in the modified quarantine model.
When asked by Trustees, Harris said that as of Friday only one of the 156 students who were exposed ended up testing positive. However, he said that it was unclear if the exposure had been from student-to-student at school or from an outside source.
Superintendent Diana Jiménez said the school district nurses were able to do rapid pop-up testing at the district office for students following an exposure at school.
Harris said there is concern across Yolo County that rapid tests kits will quickly become hard to obtain due to a huge demand and a depleting supply.
“Our supply will not last forever and everyone is concerned about them not being available,” Harris said.
A shortage of staff to administer testing is also of concern.
Harris and Lisa Dennis, Human Resources Administrator, have been meeting with Healthy Yolo Together (HYT) teams to brainstorm different options to provide more testing opportunities to staff, students and families. One of the biggest challenges has been determining which staff or personnel could pick up the additional hours to run testing sites.
“We’ve spent hours and hours trying to tackle some of these issue and it has to do with personnel and staffing. Who can pick that up? It still means that our school district would have to hire staff at odd hours,” Harris said.
Harris said the nurses are stretched thing and are already working overtime to do what they are currently doing.
“As a school leader, one of the primary things I worry about is the wellbeing of my staff. I’ve seen that they are putting in a lot of hours and trying to do everything. It is an impossible task, it really is,” Harris said. “I’m concerned about them trying to get the job done. I’d be hesitant in trying to task them with anything else to do.”
Jiménez said the school district have funds to hire two additional health aides, however there have not been any applicants. She noted the issue is not specific to Winters as everyone in California is facing a labor shortage across all industries.
Phoebe Girimonte, Assistant Superintendent and Director of Educational Services, said she has been working with HYT to learn what a Winters-scaled mobile unit team might look like to travel to different school sites as is being done in Davis.
Girimonte noted there are a lot of layers of complexity beyond the hiring piece. Beyond not enough applicants to fill the roles, those temporary employees would need representation of a unit for negotiations of their work agreements.
Winters JUSD’s MOU with HYT expires in December. Girimonte said that when she asked the HYT admin about a projection for ongoing funding, HYT was unable to provide any provide any specifics because they just don’t know what will be available that far out.
Currently, Winters JUSD offers weekly testing to all staff on Fridays. They continue to host free, saliva-based testing through HYT for all Winters JUSD students, staff, families and community members who are asymptomatic. The testing sites run from 11:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday and are closed down for lunch from 1:45 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.
The testing opportunity is voluntary and minors may only participate if a parent or guardian has given consent by registering them.
Details about locations and how to register for testing is available on the Winters JUSD website at https://www.wintersjusd.org/hyt/.
Questions regarding Healthy Yolo Together testing through Winters JUSD should be directed to Administrative Assistance Veronica Hernandez at email@example.com or 530-795-6100.
Jiménez requested families to keep students home if they show any signs of illness. Rapid symptomatic testing can also be scheduled locally at Winters Healthcare by calling 530-795-4377.
Harris officially separated from his Winters JUSD role as Special Education and Student Services Director on Sept. 3. During his COVID update presentation, he said that Winters Middle School Vice Principal Oscar Garcia would be serving as an interim for all things COVID as the school districts works to fill his role.