During Thursday’s meeting, Sisson’s talk primarily centered around the district’s universal mask mandate requiring all students and staff on campus to wear a mask inside and outside regardless of vaccination status.
Currently, there is no countywide outdoor mandate or mask requirement, but that did not curtail board members from implementing one, citing the school district’s main goal of reducing COVID-19 transmission while ensuring more kids remain in the classroom learning and not at home in quarantine if there were to be an outbreak.
Sisson began her presentation by showing that the case rate in Yolo County is still quite high but trending in the right direction after peaking at 34 cases on Sept. 1. As of Thursday’s meeting, the case rate per 100 thousand sits at 26.2 while the weekly rate is 184.
Sisson then pivoted to COVID-19 cases among children. While children and adults appear to become infected at the same rate, Sisson mentioned that their hospital rates are lower than adults meaning they currently remain much less likely to suffer from a severe case.
To protect yourself from COVID-19, Sisson reiterated that the best protection is to be vaccinated, but that it’s not the only solution and works better as just one phase of a set of layers for protection. Other layers include frequent hand washing, mask mandates, not touching your face, and testing.
As of Thursday, the Woodland School District reported 56 confirmed cases this school year. The elementary schools have had 38, while the middle and high school levels have had six and 11 respectively. Sisson mentioned that the “business as usual” feel of years past would not work this school year.
Board president Jake Whitaker then began the Q&A session by asking what indicators Sisson and the health department would use to identify any potential relaxing of mask restrictions.
Sisson stated that the outdoor masking recommendation is based on the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation.
“I would say the basis of the CDC recommendations is a high case rate, so when our case rate drops below the high tier, which is less than 14 per day, then the CDC recommendation would no longer apply,” Sisson said. “That would be a reasonable time for a district to consider removing the outdoor mask requirement. However, a district might want to keep the outdoor masking requirement to support modified quarantine. For example, if you no longer require students to mask outdoors during recess or lunch, you are going to have more close contacts in the outdoor setting that will have to quarantine at home because it won’t be a mask-on-mask exposure.”
After a few more questions, Area One trustee Deborah Bautista Zavala asked about contact tracing and what Yolo County is doing to support school districts with the, at times, overwhelming task.
“Keeping students safely in schools is the top priority for the Yolo County health department and for me as the health officer,” Sisson stated. “We are working seriously to identify additional staff who can help support school safety, including contact tracing. Prior to the school year starting, we have been working to hire staff to serve as COVID liaisons for each of our school districts. But we are realizing in conversations with school districts and individual schools that one person will not be enough.”
“We are working with multiple entities who offer contract staff to support case investigation and contact tracing on school campuses,” Sisson continued. “Unfortunately, one of them has staff available but remotely, which would help in certain instances, but in many cases, we need staff who can be present on school campuses. We are also in contact with another entity willing to help hire staff, but they don’t have any staff themselves until probably November. Your district is probably also experiencing how difficult it is to hire people right now. Our next option is potentially redirecting county staff from their normal county assignments to support contact tracing in schools. It’s something we are pursuing but not something we can do overnight.”
Zavala also asked if Sisson is in favor of recommending outdoor masking, why not make it a requirement in the whole county.
“In general, I make recommendations where there isn’t necessarily enough solid evidence for a requirement,” Sisson said. “We know outdoor activities are safer, however, with the Delta variant. We know that people have 1,000 times of a viral load compared to previous variants. We don’t know exactly how to weigh those two things, the fact that outdoor is generally safer, but people with the Delta variant have so much more of the virus. In general, we air on the side of caution in public health. I’m also trying to align with guidance from the CDC, so that’s why I have stopped at a recommendation. Certainly, any district is welcome to turn the recommendation into a requirement, including your own. Again, there is evidence but not the strongest evidence that I would like to see before I issue a health officer requirement if that makes sense.”
On Monday, Sisson is scheduled to virtually attend a Yolo County Office of Education parent web seminar where she will provide an overview of the health and safety measures that will keep schools safe for children and youth. The virtual event will be held on Facebook Live and Zoom and is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.
Assistant Superintendent Lanee Estrada then provided trustees with an update on the testing efforts that are taking place on district campuses and offices.
Healthy Yolo Together is providing the funding while Pacific Staffing is providing the staff at testing sites. The district manages, monitors and hosts the testing program.
The testing available is free PCR (saliva) for all staff and students. There is also free RAPID (antigen) Testing available in the isolation rooms for symptomatic students.
Testing is available at schools sites and district offices on a rotational schedule during the school and workday. The new schedule is posted on the district website and mentions where the teams will be on each day. Community testing has been taking place at Sci-Tech Elementary in Knights Landing, Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.