West Contra Costa Unified School District shuts all schools due to COVID

The line Friday morning outside Ohlone Elementary School in Hercules wasn’t to get inside but to get tested for COVID.

Starting at 8 a.m., a steady procession of people began showing up and waiting 5-10 minutes on average, to determine their COVID status.

"We’ve been doing it pretty regularly as schools been going on. And now, because of the omicron, we want to keep it going," said parent Lance Pataciso.

Administrators for the West Contra Costa Unified School District have closed all of their schools. They said the omicron variant has caused a significant number of teacher absences this week

The district’s website dashboard shows 320 students and 44 teachers are COVID positive. It’s the largest spike of cases of the school year, and has created a strain on the system.

SEE ALSO: Schools closing due to outbreaks, staff shortages in Oakland, Milpitas, West Contra Costa

District officials said there are not enough bodies to oversee classrooms. So, they closed schools Friday and Monday.

"Well, we have our smoke days, so they were days we were going to take off anyway. And now that fire season is over, I don’t think that there would have been a need to use the smoke days. So, they found a good reason to apply those days," said one district teacher who did not want to be identified.

Deep cleanings of approximately 60 district school sites started Friday. That work will continue on Monday.

In a statement, the school district said, "The safety of our students and staff is our top priority, and closing school to prevent further outbreaks is an action we take very seriously and will only do when it is absolutely necessary."

But many public health experts disagree with this course of action.

 "At the end of the day, this is not 2020, or 2021. Vaccines are widely available. And as long as schools are adhering to the standard precautions, like mask-wearing, washing of hands, and um providing protective measures, we should be in a place where all schools can remain open and stay open, regardless of this being in the omicron phases of the virus," said Dr. Karl Minges, interim dean of the School of Health Sciences at the University of New Haven.

Teachers and students are expected to return to class Tuesday, Jan. 11.