Contra Costa County officials urge schools to stay open amid omicron surge

Kennedy High welding program to benefit from Airgas education initiative
Kennedy High School, Richmond.

Contra Costa County’s superintendent of schools and the County’s deputy health officer on Tuesday urged schools to stay open amid the latest surge in COVID-19 cases.

“The county office of education continues to work with the health department and our school districts to maintain in-person learning and do it safely,” Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey said in a joint statement.

Unlike last school year, California law no longer allows schools to engage in distance learning. While independent study is allowed, families must consent to participate in that form of learning, according to the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD).

This past Monday and Friday, the WCCUSD closed all schools due to the omicron surge, citing abnormally high staff absences and positive cases among students. The district labeled the closures as “smoke days,” which are flexible days off the state allows districts to use at their discretion.

On Tuesday, the district said it if there are a large number of COVID-19 cases in a classroom or school, “we will collaborate with Contra Costa County Health Services on a safe way to move forward that does not cancel school whenever possible.”

Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom joined state education leaders in reaffirming the commitment to keeping schools “open for safe, in-person learning.” Dr. Ori Tzvieli, the County’s deputy health officer, said students appear to be safer in school. He noted that the omicron variant of COVID-19 seems to cause milder symptoms than earlier strains of the virus, and added that children are less likely to be infected in supervised settings such as schools with masking and testing requirements.

“We have learned a lot of hard lessons over the last two years as we have worked through this pandemic,” said Deputy Health Officer Dr. Ori Tzvieli. “For many students, remote learning does not support student mental health, emotional health, and academic well-being the way that in-person learning does. There are very few instances where closing schools is the best option from a public health perspective.”

Superintendent Mackey and Dr. Tzvieli added that they “acknowledge that each individual school and community is different, and the response to an outbreak depends on a number of factors, including vaccination rates, and access to health resources.”