California's epidemiologist lays out elementary school waiver guidelines

California's epidemiologist and deputy director for infectious diseases outlined on Tuesday how elementary schools can get waivers if they want to teach in person when school starts in a matter of days and weeks.

Dr. Erica Pan, who was recently appointed after serving as Alameda County's public health director, recapped what the California Department of Public Health released on Monday, namely, the guidelines for public, private and charter elementary schools seeking permission from their own local health officers to resume in-person instruction if they are located in one of 38 counties that remain on a state watch list because of troubling COVID-19 increases.

The same officials also recommended that local health officials not even consider that option in counties with the highest rates of coronavirus infection.

The waivers only apply for kindergarten to sixth grade because health officials say those students are less likely than older children to become infected or transmit coronavirus.

However, the state says districts shouldn’t be considered for waivers if their counties have had more than 200 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people over two weeks. There currently are 14 counties in this category.

California schools closed down in mid-March as the coronavirus surged. Some larger districts struggled to provide off-campus instruction for their students but parents and teachers have voiced safety concerns about returning to classrooms in the midst of the pandemic.

Among other things, the state’s guidelines say schools seeking waivers must have support from labor, parent and community organizations.

The state guidelines say reopening plans must cover a raft of safety issues, from cleaning and disinfecting to health screenings, social distancing and mask-wearing for staff and students. The ability to keep children in “small, stable” groups should be one qualification, according to the guidelines.

California also issued guidelines Monday for youth sports programs that effectively bar competitions, tournaments and assemblies by school teams and club and recreational teams.

The concern is that they require close contact or promote congregating among young people, parents and coaches.

Practices and conditioning will be limited and ideally should be held outdoors, the guidelines state. Permitted exercises are for building individual skills, such as running drills and body-weight exercises.

Last month, the California Interscholastic Federation, which governs high school athletics, announced that the fall sports season would be pushed back to 2021.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.