School districts in Fresno and Tulare counties will not be approved for a waiver to reopen elementary schools until the number of positive COVID-19 cases decreases, according to public health officials.
Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all private and public K-12 schools in counties that are on the state’s watch list for surging coronavirus cases to remain closed. Many counties in the central San Joaquin Valley — including Tulare, Fresno, Kings, and Merced — are being monitored by the state.
Schools in counties being monitored cannot reopen until the county is removed from the watch list for 14 consecutive days.
The one exception to the governor’s order was elementary schools. School districts could apply for a waiver through the county public health department to reopen elementary schools even if the counties were being monitored by the state.
However, school districts in Tulare County will not be approved for these waivers until the number of positive cases in the county decrease, public health officials announced late Monday. The county is following the California Department of Public Health guidelines, the statement said, which recommends counties with case rates at or above 200 cases per 100,000 residents do not approve waivers.
“Tulare County’s case rate is currently above the recommended threshold, and although schools may submit a plan for reopening, public health officials will not be considering or approving waiver plans until COVID-19 case transmission rates decline,” officials said in a statement.
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Although no schools in Tulare County have applied for a waiver as of Tuesday, at least seven schools have shown interest in applying, said Carrie Monteiro, public information officer for the county’s health and human services agency.
Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra said the county will not be granting waivers “until local and state patterns and policies allow us to consider these.”
“The community should understand that every decision they make to stay safe is a step in the right direction to helping reopen schools,” Vohra said in an emailed statement The Bee Tuesday. “Whether you are a parent, a grandparent, a civic leader or just a good neighbor we need all residents of the central valley to join with us in staying safe at each step of their day — stay home unless you are on an essential errand, use a multilayer cloth mask when in public, wash your hands, and isolate if you feel ill.”
Some schools in Fresno County are trying to submit waivers, county health education specialist Simranjit Dhillon said in an email, “however, at this time the Fresno County Department of Public Health is not accepting nor granting any waivers.”
Merced County public health officials did not reply to questions about school waivers.
Positive coronavirus cases continue to climb in the central San Joaquin Valley, with triple-digit increases in Fresno, Tulare, and Merced counties. On Tuesday, nearly 700 new cases were reported in Tulare County, as health officials dealt with a backlog in the state’s CalREDIE (California Reportable Disease Information Exchange) system.
Fresno County leads the region with nearly 18,000 cases. Six deaths were reported in Merced County since Friday and two deaths were reported in Tulare County on Tuesday.
Tulare County officials are “strongly urging” everyone to social distance, wear a face mask, and avoid social gatherings so cases can begin to decrease and students can return to in-person classes, the statement said. Tulare County also recommends schools develop a plan to reopen that follow the state and counties public health department guidelines.
The Education Lab is a local journalism initiative that highlights education issues critical to the advancement of the San Joaquin Valley. It is funded by donors. Learn about The Bee’s Education Lab on our website.
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