CDC advice on schools, sports echoing recommendations from county health officer

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New guidance released Friday, Feb. 12 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on when schools should reopen and high school sports resume largely reinforce the recommendations of Yolo County’s health officer. Last Tuesday Dr. Aimee Sisson urged elementary schools to reopen for in-person instruction but cautioned that high school sports where athletes are in close contact remain risky. Under the framework unveiled by the CDC, no high school sports would currently be allowed in Yolo County, but elementary schools could be open in a hybrid format with universal masking and six feet or more of distancing between students. Additionally, the CDC report said, “access to vaccination should not be considered a condition for reopening schools for in-person instruction.” Sisson last week encouraged schools to resume in-person instruction for students in transitional kindergarten through sixth grade, saying it would be safe with layers of protection, including masking, distancing and use of cohorts, and can be done without teachers being vaccinated — something many local teachers, who would be in those classrooms, have disagreed with. Sisson also cautioned against resumption of high school sports. Like the state has been doing for months, the CDC used a color-coded, tier-based system that bases the scope of school reopening on two key epidemiological metrics in the community: the number of cases and the test positivity rate. The CDC system places in its most restrictive red tier all schools in communities where there are more than 100 total new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days. Yolo County, which reported 331 new cases over the last seven days — or about 150 per 100,000 residents — would currently fall in that “high transmission” tier. In that tier, sports and extracurricular activities must be virtual only, elementary schools could operate in hybrid mode and junior highs and high schools must largely remain in distance learning. The advice is slightly different where communities can implement routine testing of teachers, staff and students once per week — which Davis would likely be able to do under a partnership with Healthy Davis Together. At that level of testing, sports and extracurricular activities would still be virtual only in the red tier, but all students — K-12 — could return in a hybrid learning mode provided there is six feet of physical distancing between students. Under California’s guidelines, elementary schools in the most restrictive tier here — purple — can reopen for in-person instruction when a county reports an adjusted daily new case rate below 25 per 100,000, a metric Yolo County has met for several weeks now. Junior highs and high schools, however, cannot resume in-person instruction until after the county moves to the state’s version of the red tier, a step down from the purple tier. Winters Joint Unified School District presented plans to open in-person learning in a hybrid model within the allotted six days following Yolo County’s returns to the Red Tier. Meanwhile, the state currently allows high school athletes to compete in sports with the least physical contact — largely individual sports like golf, skiing and cross country running — that can be done outdoors. Those would not be allowed under the CDC’s guidance until the county reports between 50 and 99 total new cases per 100,000 residents over the previous week. That would require the county to average around 31 new cases per day. It currently averages about 47. Once a county meets the metrics of the CDC’s yellow tier — between 10 and 49 total cases per 100,000 residents over the previous week — all K-12 schools could open for full in-person instruction with physical distancing of six feet or more “to the greatest extent possible” and sports and extracurricular activities could move indoors provided six feet of distance can be maintained. Yolo County would have to average about 15 new cases a day to reach that point. Moving to the CDC’s blue tier, where virus transmission is lowest, would require no more than nine cases per 100,000 residents over the previous seven days — or just about 20 cases in a week for Yolo County. At that point, schools would operate the same as they did in the yellow tier and sports and extracurricular activities would be allowed with “physical distancing of six feet or more to the greatest extent possible.” Due largely to the extensive COVID-19 testing being done on the UC Davis campus and by Healthy Davis Together, the county’s test positivity rate of 1.9 percent easily meets the metric for the CDC’s blue tier, which is a rate below 5 percent. Of course the CDC’s guidance is merely that. Ultimately the state, school districts and county health officers will determine what resumes and when in Yolo County, and local jurisdictions can be stricter than the state, but not more lenient. The CDC says communities should prioritize getting kids back in the classroom over resuming non-essential activities. “K-12 schools should be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely,” the report said. “This implies that decision-makers and communities should prioritize schools for reopening and remaining open for in-person instruction over non-essential businesses and activities including indoor dining, bars, social gatherings and close contact sports as community transmission is controlled.” Many athletes, parents and coaches, however, are urging the state to allow the resumption of high school sports immediately, including football. But the CDC report says “some close-contact sports may not be able to be implemented at any level of community transmission given the risk of transmission and inability to implement mitigation strategies.”

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