Most readers already know that the two largest school districts in California, Los Angeles and San Diego, decided this week to not reopen classrooms this fall.
On Wednesday, San Francisco Unified Superintendent Vincent Matthews announced students in his city would begin the upcoming school year with distance learning, amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in the Bay Area.
You may have read this week that L.A. County has moved to a tiered testing system. I could not disagree more strongly with this approach. It is reactionary, short sighted and will ultimately lead to more cases.
“After reviewing the best available evidence-based sources of guidance from health officials, and gathering input from staff, students, and families, we have determined that on August 17, 2020, our fall semester will begin with distance learning,” Superintendent Vincent Matthews said in a letter to the school community.
There is limited evidence regarding the impact of school-reopening on COVID-19 transmission in the community. However, I think it is a reasonable to factor community prevalence of the virus into reopening plans. Return of most students to school in a Germany during a high level of community transmission was accompanied by increased transmission among students. After re-opening schools in Israel there have been a number of coronavirus outbreaks in schools that have resulted in those schools being closed. In South Korea, schools in some areas were closed again after re-opening in response to surges in the number of COVID-19 cases in the community.
Of any municipality in California, San Francisco likely had the best chance of reopening, given a low COVID-19 caseload and astonishingly low mortality rate. To date, there have been 50 deaths due to coronavirus in the City of San Francisco.
However, as exhibited in the graph below, case rates are rising dramatically in San Francisco. While they are still about 1/3 of the rate of those in Los Angeles, the recent and dramatic increase in case rates is concerning. Slowing community spread is the best first step in a path towards school reopening.
(Note: Los Angeles County appears to have a dramatic drop off in cases for the week ending July 10th. I do not think this is a “real” decrease but rather reflects delays in test results and data reporting. Earlier this week, the case rate in LA was 17 and now with data from last night it is up to 20).