Will improving numbers change California schools’ opening plans?

Eufemia Didonato

California has been improving by the numbers in its battle with the coronavirus pandemic but is facing new, impending challenges as autumn arrives. The nation’s most populous state will grapple with more schools beginning their academic years, as well as the start of flu season, as the calendar flips to […]

California has been improving by the numbers in its battle with the coronavirus pandemic but is facing new, impending challenges as autumn arrives.

The nation’s most populous state will grapple with more schools beginning their academic years, as well as the start of flu season, as the calendar flips to the fall months.

In the capital region, the Sacramento City Unified School District will start 2020-21 on a remote, distance-learning basis next week, with the first day of school Sept. 3. Online instruction started for the four-campus Los Rios Community College District this Monday, and Sacramento State University will begin classes remotely next Monday.

As Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officials announced earlier in the summer, the school year will have to start on a distance learning basis this year for the majority of the state.

As of Wednesday, 35 of its 58 counties combining for just over three-quarters of the total population are on the California Department of Public Health monitoring list, aka the “watchlist.” Counties cannot permit K-12 schools to reopen for on-campus instruction until they’ve been off the watchlist at least two consecutive weeks; for higher education campuses, it’s three consecutive days off the list.

San Diego and Placer counties are among those that were removed from the list about a week ago, with the removal creating uncertainty. Some campuses and districts will stick with plans they made weeks ago; others will shift.

“It’s a bit of a challenge, and it won’t be a one size fits all,” Michelle Eklund, the Placer County Office of Education communications officer, told The Sacramento Bee last week.

Elementary schools in counties with fewer than 200 new lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the previous two weeks may be able to apply for a waiver to allow for earlier reopening. Fourteen watchlist counties were above that metric, including Yuba, Sutter, Fresno, Merced, Monterey and San Joaquin.

It’s a complicated system made all the more complex by the delicate balance of the importance of in-person education weighed against the highly contagious nature of COVID-19.

El Dorado, the only county in the immediate Sacramento area that has never been on the state watchlist, was allowed to reopen because of that status, which reflects its low infection rates. Rescue Union School District, home to 3,700 students among five elementary and two middle schools, did open those campuses last week, with numerous safety and sanitation measures in place. Just a week later, the district announced a child at Lakeview Elementary School tested positive for the virus. A cohort of 11 students and their teacher had to be put into quarantine until Sept. 2.

A “cohort” — which state health officials officially defined this week as a stable group of 14 or fewer children with two or fewer “supervising adults” who don’t interact with members of any other cohort — has become a complex issue in and of itself.

Guidance issued this week by CDPH included details on cohort size, cohort mixing, ratios, divisions, subdivisions, carpooling and more. It’s an effort not only to limit the impact of an outbreak if a student or teacher becomes infected, but to make contact tracing, quarantine and isolation measures more feasible and smaller in scope if that does happen.

The new rules and guidelines call for schools to prioritize opening for small groups of children with disabilities, those with special needs, English language learners, at-risk students or others who need access to the internet or other devices for distance learning.

Schools are not required to open cohorts, and the intent is not to open in-person instruction for all students, according to the state.

Newsom is expected to discuss the new guidance in further detail during a news conference this week.

As of Wednesday, the state reported there have been over 679,000 total lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 across California during the pandemic, of which 12,407 people have died, with 6,000 cases and 150 new deaths reported Wednesday morning by CDPH. Over the course of August, though, state data show a significant decline in the number of patients hospitalized with the respiratory disease: down below 4,400 after a peak near 7,200 in late July.

State Senate postpones session due to positive COVID-19 case

The California Senate postponed a Wednesday floor session, with an email saying a senator or staff member has tested positive for coronavirus.

The state Assembly and Senate are in the middle of the final week of the 2020 legislative session, and the Senate had been scheduled to meet on the floor at 10 a.m.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, postponed that meeting until further notice.

Why health experts say a flu shot is extra important this year

Pharmacies and health agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are all emphasizing the importance of getting a flu shot next month or the following.

If a busy flu season combines with another surge in COVID-19 activity, health systems could be strained, experts warn.

“In this context, getting a flu vaccine will be more important than ever,” the CDC said.

The CDC isn’t advising that you get a flu shot early, though. The agency recommends doing so in September or October to remain protected at the optimum time.

Outbreak among college-age people at Chico apartment complex

Butte County public health officials on Wednesday afternoon announced a COVID-19 outbreak of more than 15 infected college-age people from 18 to 24 years old living in an apartment complex in Chico.

The town, nearly 90 miles north of Sacramento, is home to California State University, Chico. The county health officials said the apartment complex, in which the outbreak was reported, is near the university campus, according to a news release. But it was unclear whether the people infected attend Chico State.

One of the infected people has been linked to second outbreak that occurred at a workplace, according to the news release.

Butte County has reported 1,744 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, according to county health data. The county reported 45 new cases Wednesday after reporting 35 new cases Tuesday and 52 new cases Monday, which set a new record for the highest number of new cases in one day. Butte County remained on the state’s watchlist Wednesday.

“People living in multi-unit housing complexes are urged to wear face coverings at all times when in common areas and to avoid gathering within 6 feet of others who do not live in their immediate unit, especially in community areas such as fitness centers, pools and barbeque areas,” officials said in the news release.

Butte County health officials also reported on Wednesday three deaths due to COVID-19, which brings its total to 21 fatalities since the pandemic began.

“All three were living in congregate settings for those who need additional care,” officials said in another news release. “One individual was in their 50s with underlying health conditions.”

Latest Sacramento-area numbers: Region has over 350 deaths

The six-county Sacramento region — Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer, Yolo and the Yuba-Sutter bi-county area — has combined for nearly 25,000 lab-positive cases and 355 fatalities.

Sacramento County reports a total of 16,742 lab-positive cases and 259 deaths from COVID-19, with nearly 300 new cases reported Tuesday and 119 more Wednesday morning.

State data show Sacramento County with 222 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Wednesday’s update, including 58 in ICUs. Those figures are down from respective highs of about 280 and 91 in late July. The county maintains 111 available ICU beds.

The county said Wednesday at least 92 residents died of the virus during the first 22 days of August, after 85 deaths in July, making the current month the worst of the pandemic so far. Those numbers mean 70% of the countywide countywide death toll has come since July 1.

Yolo County health officials have reported a total of 2,274 COVID-19 cases and 49 deaths. The county reported 21 new cases Wednesday. There were seven patients in hospitals in the county Wednesday, three of whom were in ICUs, according to state data. The county has nine ICU beds remaining.

Placer County has reported 2,852 COVID-19 cases and 32 deaths as of Wednesday’s update, adding 19 cases from Tuesday’s tally. The county’s relatively low rate of transmission allowed it to be taken off of the state’s watchlist last week. There were 39 people hospitalized in the county being treated specifically for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, 14 of them in ICUs.

El Dorado County has reported a total of 935 COVID-19 cases, including three new cases Wednesday. On Aug. 10, the county reported its second COVID-19 death. State data show one one patient infected with the virus in an El Dorado hospital, in an intensive care unit on Wednesday. The county has 10 available ICU beds.

Sutter County has reported a total of 1,312 cases and eight deaths as of Tuesday, with one new fatality reported over the weekend. The county reported 27 new cases Tuesday, and 18 people infected with the virus were being hospitalized in the county, three of whom are in the ICU.

In neighboring Yuba County, 883 people have been infected and five have died. One new death due to COVID-19 was reported Tuesday, along with six new cases. Eight people in the county were hospitalized with the virus Tuesday; two of them in the ICU.

Coronavirus: Get news and updates emailed to you from The Sacramento Bee

World numbers: Over 820,000 dead, over 24 million infected

More than 24 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 worldwide, and over 821,000 of them have died, data maintained by Johns Hopkins University showed Wednesday afternoon. More than 179,000 of the deaths have come in the United States.

The U.S. has also reported by far the highest number of cases at nearly 5.8 million; Brazil and India are next highest at 3.6 million and 3.2 million, respectively. No other country has reached 1 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins.

Brazil is second in the death toll at more than 116,000, followed by Mexico at over 61,000 and India at over 59,000.

The United Kingdom’s count early last week was lowered by more than 5,000 after the government changed its methodology, The New York Times reported. The U.K. now shows more than 41,500 COVID-19 deaths.

More than 35,000 have died in Italy, over 30,000 in France, almost 29,000 in Spain, over 28,000 in Peru and over 21,000 in Iran. Colombia has a death toll of close to 18,000, while Russia’s is over 16,600, according to Johns Hopkins. South Africa has more than 13,000 dead and Chile is approaching 11,000. Belgium, Germany and Canada have recorded more than 9,000 fatalities.

What is COVID-19? How is the coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus is spread through contact between people within 6 feet of each other, especially through coughing and sneezing that expels respiratory droplets that land in the mouths or noses of people nearby.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s possible to catch the disease COVID-19 by touching something that has the virus on it, and then touching your own face, “but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

Symptoms of the virus that causes COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath, which may occur two days to two weeks after exposure.

Most people develop only mild symptoms, but some people develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal. The disease is especially dangerous to the elderly and others with weaker immune systems.

The Bee’s Rosalio Ahumada, Molly Burke and Hannah Wiley contributed to this report. Listen to our daily briefing:

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