(Ivanhoe Elementary marquee. Photo: Pedro Hernandez, Ivanhoe Sol)
-Pedro Hernandez, Ivanhoe Sol
On Monday December 14th, an article in the Visalia Times Delta reported that 12 Ivanhoe Elementary School students were ordered to go under a school-issued quarantine order.
This news came as Pfizer and Moderna both had vaccines approved for emergency use and while Tulare County is experiencing its most drastic increase of COVID-19 detections yet.
At the December 15th Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting, Tim Lutz, the Agency Director of the Tulare Health and Human Services Agency reported, “Our weekly cases consistent with the rest of our trending are up. Weekly cases for the week ending December 14th are up 46.6% so again, our now steepest week or highest number of weekly cases that we’ve seen though the pandemic by far.” He continued saying, “the spread of the virus is increasing rapidly in the county…. yesterday we had two beds in the ICU available.”
In this context, the Ivanhoe Sol spoke with Visalia Unified School District Board Trustee Juan Guerrero and with Interim-Superintendent Tamara Ravalin to learn how the school district is addressing the quarantine order at Ivanhoe Elementary School.
According to school representatives, twelve kindergarten students and one teacher from the same classroom were affected by the quarantine order. Guerrero confirmed that “There was one student that tested positive.” The family notified the school and students were ordered to quarantine as a preventative measure to protect and further potential spread of the disease.
He says that Ivanhoe Elementary filed a waiver for reopening their school with plans to prioritize kindergarten through 2nd grade while planning for a second phase of opening the school for students in 3rd – 6th grades.
As to why younger students were prioritized to re-enter school first, Guerrero said, “they’re the ones who need to be in schools in-person the most…they’re so small.” Learning loss is a major long-term consequence of absence from school “we don’t want them losing their education.”
He also claimed “the information we get the kids that are under 10 years old, their receptors are as developed, they don’t show symptoms but they may get the symptoms but they are less vulnerable than older kids.”
While children are less likely to be impacted as severely by COVID-19, according to the Center for Disease Control, there are certain factors and variables to consider when evaluating risk.
The Center states, “Hospitalization rates for children are also much lower than for adults. However, if children are hospitalized, they need to be treated in the intensive care unit as often as hospitalized adults.” Furthermore, “children with underlying conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and asthma, are at higher risk of serious illness with COVID-19.”
Given the lack of intensive care unit beds available and the high rates of childhood asthma, Ivanhoe children still bear a significant risk to their health by attending in-person.
What happens when students test positive for COVID-19?
At Ivanhoe Elementary, there are several procedures that are followed to reduce the risk of spread. Desks are placed 6 feet apart, teachers wear personal protective equipment, and air purifiers operate throughout the day. Classes are also grouped into groups of 12 and after use, each classroom is disinfected, and all students are required to wear masks.
However, when students test positive for covid, only their class will go back into virtual distance learning. The students are required to quarantine for two weeks before returning to the school campus. The remaining students and school employees continue to attend school.
School nurses within the school district play critical roles in supporting both the schools and students. Each school in VUSD including Ivanhoe Elementary has nurses that are trained in contract tracing. Nurses follow up with each home of the students in the affected classroom and ask who they have been in contact with in order to understand where the covid detection originated from. Guerrero says, “on top of that, they send out letters to the families. They’ll get phone calls at home, if it’s a family that speaks Spanish they call in Spanish”
Over the summer, the VUSD entered a memorandum of understanding with Tulare County where the district’s 49 nurses were trained in contact tracing in order to support the spike of covid-19 detections. According to Ravalin, “We didn’t envision that the virus would be so prevalent. We were doing it as a service but it turned out to be great training.”
As a result, school nurses play an essential role in gathering the data the school district needs to make informed decisions regarding future quarantine orders. Ravalin confirmed that, “we have to verify the incident to make sure it was a positive case, we can’t go on hearsay.”
Preventing Spread of COVID at Home
According to Superintendent Tamara Ravalin, 11 classrooms around the entire district of 27 schools have been affected by positive COVID-19 detections. An estimated 100 students have been affected by quarantine orders however Ravalin claims that none of the detections were spread at school.
If COVID-19 is not being contracted at school at this point, efforts must be increased to prevent the spread of the coronavirus within the homes that students reside. Ultimately, social gatherings must be reduced.
With drastically reduced hospital capacity, Both School and County health officials agree that COVID-19 must be controlled in the community at large. Tim Lutz confirmed in his report to the Tulare County Supervisors that “Gatherings continue to be roughly half of our case exposures with the smaller family gatherings being the largest of those exposure points so coupled with our hospital capacity, we really are at a critical juncture right now.”
Superintendent Ravalin says, “with the rates in the county accelerating, we all need to work together to bring those numbers down…it’s so important that everybody wears makes and avoids holiday gatherings.” She continued,”, “It’s really important that we look after the whole community, I know it’s hard….I haven’t hugged my parents since March.”
Trustee Guerrero has also been limiting social interactions. He concluded the interview by saying, “I’m really concerned we are in the purple tier and we need to drop into the red tier. We need the community to help too to wear their masks, stay social distancing, limit social gatherings. We want our schools to be open.” He concluded, “I haven’t been around my grandkids in a month. I want to be around them”