The government of California has kept many schools, including Miramonte High School, closed unnecessarily with a strict and unfair set of COVID-19 guidelines. Although public safety is important, schools such as Mirmamonte should be reopened with many new accommodations for COVID-19.
In late August, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a new tier-based system to measure California counties in relation to COVID-19. The government places counties into tiers based on two measurements: cases per 100,000 and positivity rate — the percentage of COVID-19 tests that are positive. There are four tiers: purple, red, orange and yellow.
Tier one, the purple tier, represents counties with the highest COVID-19 threat. Tier one counties have seven or more cases per 100,000 in a day and an eight percent or higher test positivity rate. Tier four, the yellow tier, represents the least COVID-19 threat. Counties need less than one case per 100,000 in a day and less than a two percent positivity rate to move into tier four.
According to the California COVID-19 monitoring list, schools can reopen for in-person instruction once their county has been in the red tier, tier two, for at least two weeks. Although this system is a vast improvement over the obtuse previous system with six different guidelines, this system is still unfair to the Lamorinda community.
Contra Costa County, which encompasses Orinda, Moraga, and Lafayette, resides in the purple tier, the worst tier. Because of this, the Acalanes Union High School District is unable to reopen. This tier system is greatly unjust and doesn’t reflect the safety or personal perseverance of the Lamorinda community to socially distance. According to the data for September provided by Contra Costa Health Services, on an average day, Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda have an average 2.18 cases per 100,000, which places the cities in tier three, one tier higher than what’s required to open schools. Walnut Creek has much higher rates than Lamorinda at 5.64 cases per 100,000, but this still places them in tier two, which is the standard to reopen.
Compared to the rest of Contra Costa County in September, Lafayette comes in first for COVID-19 safety, Moraga in second, Orinda in third, and Walnut Creek tenth out of 28 towns. The bulk of cases comes from periphery towns like San Pablo, with an average daily COVID-19 case count of 43.4 per 100,000, more than 30 times the numbers of Lafayette. It is grossly unfair that the government penalizes the Lamorinda community even when our cases place us in tier three, well within the safety guidelines to reopen schools and other businesses. Despite our community consistently meeting the guidelines, our schools won’t open.
It’s important to reopen as soon and safely as possible to ensure a high quality of education.
“ Anything other than in-person learning is an inferior education,” said Miramonte math teacher Steven Louchis. “Human connection is an absolutely essential element of learning,”
In-person school also facilitates better social and mental health for its students. A school environment doesn’t only allow for learning but also for opportunities to connect with others. According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an environment where students feel safe and connected, such as a school, is associated with lower levels of depression, thoughts about suicide, social anxiety. The closure of schools has a real human cost, which is especially unacceptable in Lamorinda because of our more than satisfactory test results.
According to the CDC, children and teens have a significantly lower chance of dying, experiencing serious complications, or even infection than other age groups. Only 0.1 percent of COVID-19 deaths and seven percent of infection were in people under the age of 18. Furthermore, according to the CDC, in each of the last five flu seasons, more children under the age of 18 have died than during this entire pandemic. Students under the age of 18, which encompasses most K-12 students, are actually the safest groups during this pandemic, so schools should be reopened, especially in an already safe town like Orinda.
“The number of COVID-19 cases in people under 18 surprises me a bit, but it doesn’t make me feel more safe.” Miramonte junior Isabel Wirz said.
The two biggest factors for COVID-19 spread are proximity and duration of exposure. The importance of proximity can be mitigated through distance, thus the six feet rule. Teachers, the highest risk individuals, could stand at the front of the classroom for lectures while students’ desks are placed several feet apart. In regards to duration, admin could shorten class periods but have a more regular schedule similar to Mondays. School officials could also cut class sizes if a classroom doesn’t have enough space to accommodate for social distancing
According to the CDC, “masks should be worn particularly where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations, because masks block water particles due to coughing, speaking, singing, etc”. Especially in school halls or when communicating with another student, masks should be absolutely required. In classes with many students, masks could be an option to reduce spread. Other possible health precautions include open-air classrooms, open windows, or air filtration that cleans or replaces the possibly infected air with fresh, sanitary air. In addition, all students should be tested before the first day of school and then be tested regularly.
For some students or teachers, such as those with metabolic issues, other health compromises, or elderly or sickly family members, even with proper precautions, going to school could be dangerous. For these people or others who fear COVID-19, an online alternative could be provided.
Public safety in the Lamorinda community can still be maintained with the reopening of schools, and thus schools should be reopened.