Jessica Cejnar / Friday, March 13, 2020 @ 1:28 p.m. / Education, Emergencies, Local Government

(UPDATED) School Continues in Del Norte County, Though Gatherings, Field Trips Are Being Canceled To Prevent COVID-19 Spread

Coronavirus. Graphic: Scientific Animations. Creative Commons license.

Jeff Harris urged students and staff to stay home if they’re feeling sick to keep COVID-19 from gaining a foothold in the community.

Local schools are postponing or canceling large gatherings, the Del Norte County Unified School District told the Board of Trustees on Thursday. But, though he discussed measures other areas were taking to curtail the spread of COVID-19, including extending their spring breaks, Harris said nothing about closing DNUSD campuses.

The district won't move forward with disciplinary action related to truancy through the Student Attendance Review Board, or SARB, if a student is truly sick, Harris said.

Teachers and administrators are also discussing ways to facilitate social distancing among DNUSD students, including splitting recesses and adjusting classroom seating to keep kids as far apart from each other as possible, he said.

“We’re trying to wrap our heads around all that,” Harris said. “As that’s coming in, it has implications we have on everything we do from our LCAP input sessions, staff meetings, professional development.”

In a press release on Friday, Harris said DNUSD and the Del Norte County Office of Education will suspend non-essential travel out of the county, including field trips and professional development. DNUSD officials will also discuss athletics with California Interscholastic Federation regional representatives on Tuesday.

Harris’s comments came after the California Department of Public Health issued recommendations that people postpone or cancel large gatherings of 250 people or more. As a result, a handful of local events, including the Friends of the Harbor St. Patty’s Day Polka Party as well as gatherings at the Del Norte County Library, have been cancelled.

The Yurok Tribe declared a state of emergency on Friday, cancelling social gatherings at tribal locations and has issued a moratorium on public use of its facilities for March to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Across the Del Norte High School parking lot, College of the Redwoods has suspended classes following Spring Break — from March 23-27 — to prepare for the possible need to suspend face-to-face instruction.

In Del Norte County, two people are under investigation for COVID-19 as of Friday, according to the Public Health Branch. There are no confirmed cases and so far four people have tested negative for the virus.

On Thursday, DNUSD’s custodian coordinator said her colleagues are working hard to make sure chairs, tables and restrooms are disinfected every day and over the weekend. She said they’re using a product called Vindicator.

“I know a lot of teachers are concerned things are not getting done,” she said. “I’m going out in the morning early to check to see how things are going. With the scare we just had with not knowing if the coronavirus was here or not.”

Harris said he and other county superintendents in California visited with the governor, the state superintendent of schools and officials with the California Department of Public Health on Saturday. Those officials described three scenarios when discussing the community response to COVID-19, Harris said.

This includes what preventative measures need to be taken if there are no community cases of COVID-19 — the scenario Del Norte County is in now, Harris said. What those measures look like if there are “a couple community cases” and then if there are multiple students in multiple schools infected, Harris said.

The DNUSD superintendent noted that while he and his colleagues were meeting with state officials in Sacramento, the first student at Elk Grove School tested positive for COVID-19 and California Governor Gavin Newsom allowed the Grand Princess cruise ship to dock in Oakland.

“The message at that point from everyone around the table was very clear: We are not closing schools. We are not closing schools,” Harris said. “the state is not going to issue any sort of dictate about large services for students… What we found out was the timing was odd.”

He noted that as a result of the positive COVID-19 test in Elk Grove School District, the child was put into isolation and the district started its spring break a week early.

In Del Norte County, with a recommendation against holding large gatherings, one example Harris gave of a local school-related event changing was at Redwood School in Fort Dick. Instead of its 500 students gathering in the gym for a planned student award assembly Friday, Redwood School will re-think recognitions.

State education officials are also recommending splitting recesses and discouraging youngsters from having close contact with one another, Harris said.

“We have teachers who do amazing things with flexible sitting,” he said. “They’re recommending putting kids in rows and putting rows and seats as far apart as you can as well.”

In addition to praising the district’s custodians, Harris said officials have also discussed disinfecting buses with its bus drivers. Many kids who ride the bus are low-income students, homeless students or students who may not be able to stay home, he said. School district officials have discussed how to go about identifying potential cases and distancing those students from others on a school bus, Harris said.

“We’re identifying places on the bus where those kids can be socially distanced until we reach out to a family member or have the school nurse work with them to determine whether or not they need to go home,” he said.

Meanwhile, disciplinary action for truancy has been suspended if a student is truly ill, Harris said the concern about where parents will find childcare has come up. He noted that a kindergartner can’t stay home by themselves, but they can’t go to a grandparent’s house if they have a fever.

“Most kids, if they’re going to be isolated, (we) look for an incubation period around 14 days,” Harris said. “Most people start showing in two to five. The recommended outlier is 10 days of independent study with two weekends — 14 days. Fourteen days to say we’re good to go or ask for more (time) if in fact it develops.”

COVID-19 shows itself as a flu-like illness with a cough and fever being hallmark symptoms. However, according to Rehwaldt, a cough and fever aren’t universal. Those most at-risk of complications from COVID-19 include the elderly and those with underlying illnesses or compromised immune systems.

To slow the spread of COVID-19, health officials recommend thorough and often hand washing and social distancing of six-feet per person, according to CDPH.


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