Joint Statement by the Association of Bay Area Health Officials
As Bay Area Health Officials, we are excited that more than a million Kindergarten-12th grade students are returning to school for in-person learning this fall across the wider San Francisco Bay Area. In the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, and the City of Berkeley, many children are back in the classroom for the first time since early 2020.
This summer’s surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalization due to the spread of the Delta variant is causing people to feel cautious about the return to school. We know that when rates of COVID are high in our communities, cases will appear at schools, just as they do in other settings. However, with effective protocols in place – including universal indoor masking, vaccinations of eligible persons, testing, good hand hygiene, staying home when sick and proper ventilation – the data shows that these multiple layers of defense can stop the spread of COVID in school settings.
In considering the many benefits to children, Bay Area Health Officials reaffirm the joint Bay Area Health Officials’ statement from June, endorse the recent statement from Bay Area County Superintendents of Schools, and continue to firmly support a safe return to the classroom.
The lack of in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic not only disrupted education, but it also weakened social supports and harmed the mental health of students. The risks and benefits of returning to in-person learning are clearer now than any other time during this pandemic – we must all continue to do everything possible to keep kids safely attending their schools.
While children can get COVID-19, severe disease among kids is uncommon and deaths are exceedingly rare. Transmission can happen in any setting, including in schools, but children are often exposed to COVID-19 at home or in social settings where safety practices vary. Cases identified by school testing programs may often be unrelated classroom exposure.
In SF, we are seeing cases of COVID-19 among children however the percentage of pediatric cases has been consistent over time including this most recent surge. For the previous school year (2020-2021), there were seven cases of COVID transmission in all schools in SF with in-person learning among 48,000 students and teachers, including the San Francisco Unified School District. All other cases reported at schools were related to community transmission outside of school. This was even during the height of our winter surge. Moreover, there have been no verified outbreaks in SF camps and learning hubs this summer.
SF has one of the highest vaccination rates in the nation with 79 percent of our eligible population fully vaccinated. Impressively, 99 percent of our 12- to 17-year-olds have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Middle and high schools will be safer because of the high vaccination rates among teens in SF.
The State’s K-12 Schools Guidance for the 2021-22 School Year is practical guidance that emphasizes universal application of the most important safety measures while also offering flexibility for different approaches to meet the needs and capacities of a broad range of schools and districts seeking to safely keep children in classrooms.
School leaders have worked hard to implement this Guidance and are ready to welcome students back. Health Officials continue to monitor the data closely and we will work across the region and the state to adapt when needed.