News

Students, school staff test positive for COVID-19 as school year begins

No known cases of virus spreading on campus among students yet, local district officials say

Students at Los Alto High School make their way through the halls towards their second class on the first day back at school on Aug. 11, 2021. Photo by Adam Pardee.

When Angela Rodriguez decided to send her kids back to in-person school this fall, she knew it was inevitable that there would be COVID-19 cases on campus, she just didn't expect it to happen on the first day of school.

Rodriguez got an email on Aug. 11 saying that a child had tested positive for COVID-19 at Vargas Elementary School in Mountain View, where her two children are students.

"We were in shock," Rodriguez said. "My husband and I could not believe it."

The Palo Alto Unified, Mountain View Los Altos Union High School, Mountain View Whisman and Los Altos school districts have reported student and staff COVID-19 cases since school began earlier this month, although as of Friday there weren't any known cases of the virus spreading among students on campus, district officials said.

"All of our cases have occurred outside of the school, and we know that because we're doing contact tracing," Mountain View Whisman Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said. "The students who are identified as close contacts have not tested positive."

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The state protocols for when someone tests positive are complex and dependent on a variety of factors, including a student's vaccination status, mask use and symptoms. That has led to confusion and frustration among some parents, as they try to abide by the detailed requirements. School districts have at times hit snags as they try to implement the health rules, which have changed substantially since last school year.

In the past, whole classes generally had to quarantine when a student tested positive. This year, kids who come into close contact with a positive case can typically continue to attend school, regardless of vaccination status, so long as they don't have any symptoms, meet testing requirements and everyone was wearing masks at the time of exposure. Unvaccinated students face an extra restriction of not being allowed to participate in extracurricular activities for seven to 10 days.

MVLA Associate Superintendent Leyla Benson, who is spearheading the district's COVID-19 case tracking efforts, said she supports the new guidance because it allows students to keep learning in-person.

"It's worth the effort," Benson said. "That being said, it is an incredible amount of tracking to identify the close contacts, identify their status, get the test results and check that they have tested in the cadence that's required."

The guidelines for positive cases aren't the only thing that has changed this school year. There are no longer rules for socially distancing students in classrooms, so class sizes no longer have to be reduced.

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While the state only requires that masks are worn indoors at schools, some districts are opting to require outdoor masking for grades K-8, including Mountain View Whisman, Los Altos and Palo Alto Unified, which rolled out an outdoor masking requirement Friday.

Only students ages 12 and up are currently eligible to be vaccinated, leaving the vast majority of local elementary schoolers unvaccinated.

Identifying cases

When Rodriguez got the Vargas exposure notification, she was particularly upset because her daughter told her that there was a student in class that day who had been coughing and sneezing. Privacy laws preclude districts from identifying which students test positive, but Rodriguez said the student who appeared sick didn't show up for school on the following days.

"There needs to be accountability and responsibility as parents during this school year," Rodriguez said, adding that she felt the district handled sending out the exposure notices well.

Thus far, Mountain View Whisman has reported seven students and five staff members testing positive since July 1. MVLA has had two students test positive this school year, plus one staff member over the summer.

LASD has reported one student case since school started Aug. 18, though the district only updates its online COVID-19 dashboard once a week. Two staff members tested positive before students returned to campus.

Palo Alto Unified's dashboard hasn't yet been updated for last week, but Superintendent Don Austin said in a Thursday interview that his district has seen fewer than 10 cases.

"I'd say our opening has been (the) best case scenario so far," Austin said. "It should be expected that we're going to mirror our local case rates, so we're going to have some cases."

In one case, Palo Alto quarantined an entire special education class because not all of its students were able to wear masks. MVLA has had some students quarantine after taking part in an unmasked outdoor activity on campus with a student who tested positive.

A local parent told Palo Alto Online that students and staff at El Carmelo Elementary were among those notified of a COVID-19 case affecting a person at their school.

Implementation hiccups

In some cases, there have been kinks in rolling out the new exposure protocols. When MVLA first notified families about a positive case earlier this month, the district told parents that all students needed to be tested twice and couldn't participate in extracurricular activities.

However, Santa Clara County guidelines state that vaccinated students only need to be tested once, five days after exposure, and are able to participate in extracurriculars if asymptomatic. Unvaccinated students do need two tests (one immediately and one on the fifth day) to be able to attend classes and may not participate in extracurriculars. The unvaccinated student and the person who tested positive also must both have been masked at the time of the encounter for the unvaccinated student to be allowed to attend classes.

According to Benson, district officials had only just been trained on the new guidelines when they sent out the exposure email, and the flowchart on the county's website didn't reflect the updated rules, leading to the miscommunication with parents.

The district also didn't have a way for families to submit their COVID-19 test results to the district until last week.

Getting tested

Nancy Pannikkat is among the parents who received the exposure notice. Her son is a vaccinated senior at Los Altos High, Pannikkat said. Finding an available test proved to be a challenge. There weren't any slots open at El Camino Health, where the district directed parents, she said. Instead, she took her son to the county fairgrounds.

"It was a bit of a hassle to find an appointment," Pannikkat said, adding that she understands the district is adapting to changing circumstances, but that she hopes they can add on-campus testing.

MVLA did just that last week, hiring outside company Inspire Diagnostics to offer onsite tests. Trained district staff, as well as employees from Inspire, will administer the swabs. According to Benson, the decision to offer testing on campus came after hearing from parents like Pannikkat who were having trouble securing appointments.

"Having the tests on site is going to be instrumental in assisting the families to meet the requirements," Benson said.

Palo Alto Unified has already been providing tests to students who are close contacts of a positive case.

The Los Altos School District is looking to resume offering pool tests on campus, which it did last spring, district nurse Mary Fitzgerald said. Pool testing refers to testing a whole group of people at a time, typically a classroom in a school setting, by pooling their samples. If any individual sample is positive, the whole pool is supposed to come back positive, and then each person in the group can be individually tested.

Mountain View Whisman plans to begin pool testing students Sept. 6. The decision to offer testing comes after Mountain View Whisman parents similarly ran into issues finding testing appointments in the community.

"What we've seen over the last couple of days is that not every student and not every family has the ability to test on (the required timeline)," Rudolph said. "It's just a challenge getting those, which forces people to go into a quarantine."

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Zoe Morgan
 
Zoe Morgan covers education, youth and families for the Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Weekly / PaloAltoOnline.com, with a focus on using data to tell compelling stories. A Mountain View native, she has previous experience as an education reporter in both California and Oregon. Read more >>

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Students, school staff test positive for COVID-19 as school year begins

No known cases of virus spreading on campus among students yet, local district officials say

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, Aug 23, 2021, 9:39 am

When Angela Rodriguez decided to send her kids back to in-person school this fall, she knew it was inevitable that there would be COVID-19 cases on campus, she just didn't expect it to happen on the first day of school.

Rodriguez got an email on Aug. 11 saying that a child had tested positive for COVID-19 at Vargas Elementary School in Mountain View, where her two children are students.

"We were in shock," Rodriguez said. "My husband and I could not believe it."

The Palo Alto Unified, Mountain View Los Altos Union High School, Mountain View Whisman and Los Altos school districts have reported student and staff COVID-19 cases since school began earlier this month, although as of Friday there weren't any known cases of the virus spreading among students on campus, district officials said.

"All of our cases have occurred outside of the school, and we know that because we're doing contact tracing," Mountain View Whisman Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said. "The students who are identified as close contacts have not tested positive."

The state protocols for when someone tests positive are complex and dependent on a variety of factors, including a student's vaccination status, mask use and symptoms. That has led to confusion and frustration among some parents, as they try to abide by the detailed requirements. School districts have at times hit snags as they try to implement the health rules, which have changed substantially since last school year.

In the past, whole classes generally had to quarantine when a student tested positive. This year, kids who come into close contact with a positive case can typically continue to attend school, regardless of vaccination status, so long as they don't have any symptoms, meet testing requirements and everyone was wearing masks at the time of exposure. Unvaccinated students face an extra restriction of not being allowed to participate in extracurricular activities for seven to 10 days.

MVLA Associate Superintendent Leyla Benson, who is spearheading the district's COVID-19 case tracking efforts, said she supports the new guidance because it allows students to keep learning in-person.

"It's worth the effort," Benson said. "That being said, it is an incredible amount of tracking to identify the close contacts, identify their status, get the test results and check that they have tested in the cadence that's required."

The guidelines for positive cases aren't the only thing that has changed this school year. There are no longer rules for socially distancing students in classrooms, so class sizes no longer have to be reduced.

While the state only requires that masks are worn indoors at schools, some districts are opting to require outdoor masking for grades K-8, including Mountain View Whisman, Los Altos and Palo Alto Unified, which rolled out an outdoor masking requirement Friday.

Only students ages 12 and up are currently eligible to be vaccinated, leaving the vast majority of local elementary schoolers unvaccinated.

Identifying cases

When Rodriguez got the Vargas exposure notification, she was particularly upset because her daughter told her that there was a student in class that day who had been coughing and sneezing. Privacy laws preclude districts from identifying which students test positive, but Rodriguez said the student who appeared sick didn't show up for school on the following days.

"There needs to be accountability and responsibility as parents during this school year," Rodriguez said, adding that she felt the district handled sending out the exposure notices well.

Thus far, Mountain View Whisman has reported seven students and five staff members testing positive since July 1. MVLA has had two students test positive this school year, plus one staff member over the summer.

LASD has reported one student case since school started Aug. 18, though the district only updates its online COVID-19 dashboard once a week. Two staff members tested positive before students returned to campus.

Palo Alto Unified's dashboard hasn't yet been updated for last week, but Superintendent Don Austin said in a Thursday interview that his district has seen fewer than 10 cases.

"I'd say our opening has been (the) best case scenario so far," Austin said. "It should be expected that we're going to mirror our local case rates, so we're going to have some cases."

In one case, Palo Alto quarantined an entire special education class because not all of its students were able to wear masks. MVLA has had some students quarantine after taking part in an unmasked outdoor activity on campus with a student who tested positive.

A local parent told Palo Alto Online that students and staff at El Carmelo Elementary were among those notified of a COVID-19 case affecting a person at their school.

Implementation hiccups

In some cases, there have been kinks in rolling out the new exposure protocols. When MVLA first notified families about a positive case earlier this month, the district told parents that all students needed to be tested twice and couldn't participate in extracurricular activities.

However, Santa Clara County guidelines state that vaccinated students only need to be tested once, five days after exposure, and are able to participate in extracurriculars if asymptomatic. Unvaccinated students do need two tests (one immediately and one on the fifth day) to be able to attend classes and may not participate in extracurriculars. The unvaccinated student and the person who tested positive also must both have been masked at the time of the encounter for the unvaccinated student to be allowed to attend classes.

According to Benson, district officials had only just been trained on the new guidelines when they sent out the exposure email, and the flowchart on the county's website didn't reflect the updated rules, leading to the miscommunication with parents.

The district also didn't have a way for families to submit their COVID-19 test results to the district until last week.

Getting tested

Nancy Pannikkat is among the parents who received the exposure notice. Her son is a vaccinated senior at Los Altos High, Pannikkat said. Finding an available test proved to be a challenge. There weren't any slots open at El Camino Health, where the district directed parents, she said. Instead, she took her son to the county fairgrounds.

"It was a bit of a hassle to find an appointment," Pannikkat said, adding that she understands the district is adapting to changing circumstances, but that she hopes they can add on-campus testing.

MVLA did just that last week, hiring outside company Inspire Diagnostics to offer onsite tests. Trained district staff, as well as employees from Inspire, will administer the swabs. According to Benson, the decision to offer testing on campus came after hearing from parents like Pannikkat who were having trouble securing appointments.

"Having the tests on site is going to be instrumental in assisting the families to meet the requirements," Benson said.

Palo Alto Unified has already been providing tests to students who are close contacts of a positive case.

The Los Altos School District is looking to resume offering pool tests on campus, which it did last spring, district nurse Mary Fitzgerald said. Pool testing refers to testing a whole group of people at a time, typically a classroom in a school setting, by pooling their samples. If any individual sample is positive, the whole pool is supposed to come back positive, and then each person in the group can be individually tested.

Mountain View Whisman plans to begin pool testing students Sept. 6. The decision to offer testing comes after Mountain View Whisman parents similarly ran into issues finding testing appointments in the community.

"What we've seen over the last couple of days is that not every student and not every family has the ability to test on (the required timeline)," Rudolph said. "It's just a challenge getting those, which forces people to go into a quarantine."

Comments

Nayeli
Registered user
Midtown
on Aug 23, 2021 at 10:21 am
Nayeli, Midtown
Registered user
on Aug 23, 2021 at 10:21 am

During college, I took a few online courses. The professors would upload their lectures (which could be paused, rewound and replayed several times during a week). The assignments, tests and quizzes were all online too. I enjoyed those courses quite a bit.

However, I had friends who absolutely hated "distance" or "online" learning. They struggled through the courses and dreaded those classes. Not only did they say that they courses were impersonal (despite the video chats), but the coursework just didn't feel the same in terms of what they gained from it.

I wonder how many students in the U.S. (or world for that matter) feel the same way following COVID restrictions on in-person attendance.

I'm not saying that states should base curriculum and practices on in-person metrics. I just realize that there are otherwise bright students who are likely to suffer if the schools are shut down yet again. Many students have already lost a year. At the same time, we don't want COVID (or the Delta variant) to spread.

I know that many parents are pointing out that children and younger adults (those with school-aged children) tend to be the least affected from COVID issues. I wonder if this is part of the risk analysis done by the schools?

Perhaps the assignment of students and teachers should have accounted for at-risk teachers to conduct distance learning options while healthier and less-risky teachers opt to teach in-person.

Personally, I would have THRIVED by learning from home in college. However, I would have struggled while growing up because we were migrant farm workers. We didn't have an internet connection -- or even a computer -- in our home.

While Palo Alto doesn't have as many kids who grew up like I did, all families are different. Even if a kid has a computer and internet connection, it doesn't mean that conditions at home are optimal for learning. Some kids might find it hard to have a quiet place to study or participate in an online class.


William Hitchens
Registered user
Mountain View
on Aug 23, 2021 at 10:59 am
William Hitchens, Mountain View
Registered user
on Aug 23, 2021 at 10:59 am

@Nayeli: I'm glad that you were comfortable with online classes. I'm one of those students who hated canned classes and really needed to be in close contact with instructors and students to maximize my college and especially grad school educational quality and experience. I needed the give-and-take interactions that one only can get through live interactions --- spontaneous Q & A with instructors, study groups, group homework sessions and sharing, and having BS sessions about course materials and just having fun socializing, which led to becoming much better informed and comfortable with class materials and my competency. Also, I learned how to interact socially with my class members, which is an essential skill in most disciplines both for personal growth and also for success in post-college employment. And my specialties were Physics and Computer Science, and God only knows that I and many of my fellow students needed more social skills and ability to work and interact with others.


Barron Parker Too
Registered user
Barron Park
on Aug 23, 2021 at 11:26 am
Barron Parker Too, Barron Park
Registered user
on Aug 23, 2021 at 11:26 am

Why is testing a problem? Because the schools are requiring the PCR tests, which are expensive, require going to a testing site, and using expensive machinery that takes 1 to 3 days to get a result.

And yet we have known for over a year that the less sensitive fast antigen tests, which are used in countries all over the planet, are completely adequate for determining if someone is infective. And infectiousness is the exact criterion that should be used to decide if a student should not attend class. These rapid tests give results in about 15 minutes, require no special equipment, and can be purchased online or at your local drug store for about $10. And of course they should be supplied free to anyone needing a test.

For reference, here is Dr. Michael Mina's August 2020 discussion of why these tests can and should be used to end the pandemic.
Excerpt: Web Link
Full version: Web Link

Bottom line: all our local school districts should switch to using the fast antigen tests for covid-19. Our kids would not have missed a year of schooling if these tests had been used last year, starting in August 2020.


Barron Parker Too
Registered user
Barron Park
on Aug 23, 2021 at 11:30 am
Barron Parker Too, Barron Park
Registered user
on Aug 23, 2021 at 11:30 am

Correct link for full discussion by Dr. Mina on the rapid covid 19 test:
Web Link


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