San Mateo County officials say schools will stay open even though COVID-19 cases continue to appear at area schools since reopening in mid-August.

Local superintendents reported five new cases in the past week, bringing the total local cases in public schools up to 18 from the 13 reported on Aug. 23. Over the past week, two new cases were reported at Vallemar Elementary School, one at Jefferson High School, one at Westmoor High School and one at Cunha Intermediate School in Half Moon Bay. There are still no COVID-19 cases among La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District campuses.

Meanwhile, the San Mateo County Health Department sent out a press release on Thursday reaffirming its support for in-person school despite reports of cases in classrooms. The release, signed by 13 local jurisdictions, said each of the counties and cities stand by safety protocols instituted at local schools to stem the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19.

“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 statement reads. “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.”

The statement cites the lower risk of severe disease and death among children and says most kids are exposed to the disease at home or elsewhere where safety protocols aren’t as strictly enforced. All local schools are abiding by state and county safety rules, which include mandatory masks indoors.

According to Cabrillo Unified School District Superintendent Sean McPhetridge, superintendents are informed of all confirmed cases immediately, which they then report to the San Mateo County Office of Education and to families and staff at affected school sites. Pacifica and Jefferson Union High School districts each have dashboards reflecting their case totals, and McPhetridge said Cabrillo is working on one of its own.

In accordance with county rules, any student or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19 must leave school immediately and quarantine, and all close contacts must monitor their symptoms and get tested for COVID-19, but may remain at school if they wear masks and have no symptoms.

If an outbreak, defined as three or more cases over 14 days, were to occur at a local school, the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health requires reporting it and mandates masks both indoors and outdoors for all staff, regardless of vaccination status, when six feet of social distancing can’t be maintained.

A major outbreak, when 20 or more cases are reported over 30 days, would prompt reporting, masking and mandatory social distancing indoors and outdoors when feasible.

McPhetridge said the county health department is communicating with staff daily about new cases, and campuses and classrooms will stay open until the county decides otherwise.

“The health officer ultimately informs us if a classroom or school needs to be shut down,” McPhetridge wrote. 

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