San Marcos COVID Tracking Problems Highlight Challenges Schools Face
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Parents of children enrolled in the San Marcos unified school district were given cause for alarm after being informed that some students had been attending school with known COVID-19 positive test results. While the update issued by superintendent, Andy Johnson, caution that these instances or rare the possibility of positive cases flying under the radar suggest flaws in how these cases were being tracked in the first place. Despite the low case numbers, the districts uneven case reporting system first reported by the San Diego union Tribune is indicative of how San Diego schools are constantly working to evolve their safety guidelines and protocols in the face of a pandemic. Joining us now with more is KPBS education reporter mg Perez mg. Welcome to the program. Glad to be here. Can you start off by telling us the situation at San Marcos unified? Yes.
Speaker 2: (00:54)
Um, so it was a statement made by the San Marco superintendent, as you mentioned, and it is startling to hear that there were reports of students attending school with symptoms present, or in a few limited cases, students attending school with known COVID-19 positive tests. Now, relatively speaking, it was less than 1%. They have a population of about 19,000 students, but still a handful and something to be concerned about. I think the way to frame this news is that the superintendent was dealing in reality and was making the point that this is a challenging time to try to notify everybody who needs to be notified as quickly as possible. I mean,
Speaker 1: (01:37)
How did parents react to this?
Speaker 2: (01:39)
Well, as you can imagine, you don't want to hear that your child is attending classes with somebody who was positive, but again, the numbers are very low. I think the bigger headline for this story is about, uh, the system or the lack of a system that notifies as quickly as possible. Of course, all of these figures have to be reported to the San Diego county health department and the county health department is doing the best that it can to inform school districts when they are notified of positive cases that can take anywhere from one day up to four days. Uh, obviously the quicker, the faster something can be done, but that's not always the case, depending on, uh, the information that the county is receiving
Speaker 1: (02:23)
And this recent update reflect about the district's effort to keep track of cases.
Speaker 2: (02:28)
Well, I think the district is doing the best that the district can do until this pandemic happened. School districts were not prepared to be tracers of viruses. That was just not part of the skill set or the expectation. So I think what has happened is, uh, districts have done the best that they can in order to try to get as current, uh, accurate information as they can, uh, to distribute to their staff and to their parents. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Do I believe the district is doing the best that it can? Yes, I do.
Speaker 1: (02:59)
And you actually have some experience on this front. Can you talk about some of the challenges in reporting positive cases to school district?
Speaker 2: (03:07)
So I was a county COVID case investigator for 10 months up until last may. And I joined the county at the time when COVID was really out of control and was there for the surge that happened in December and January. And here's, here's the reality of it trying to get the most accurate information as possible was a challenge as it was my job when I got a positive case report to reach out and try to find that person and find out who they had been in contact with and if they had traveled and what symptoms had they experienced. And the problem is when the cases just don't stop, you know, it slows down the process and notifying folks. And part of my job as the investigator was to get as much detail as possible to then pass along to a tracer who would then be assigned to following that person or their family, or find out if it was an outbreak at a school or a business, looking at
Speaker 1: (04:06)
San Diego unified votes tomorrow on a vaccine mandate for students. What is the district's administration saying about this mandate? Well,
Speaker 2: (04:15)
Very clear that San Diego unified, uh, being the largest, uh, second largest school district in the state and the largest here in San Diego county is doing everything that it can to try to, uh, stop. Uh COVID-19. And so this mandate would say, um, you know, all eligible students 12 and up would be required to be vaccinated. Um, otherwise they would be required to attend classes from home and do distance learning. We actually spoke with Richard Barrera, who is the board president, and he was very clear on what he thinks.
Speaker 3: (04:52)
I absolutely support vaccine mandates for eligible students the best way to keep everybody safe. And it's also the way to keep our students in school. You know, the more that we allow the Delta variants to spread on our campuses, the more likely that we'll have positive cases and contact tracing, uh, will force students to be out, you know, for periods of time, as well as staff to be out for periods of time.
Speaker 1: (05:21)
And now this mandate is expected to be met with legal action from community groups. Do we have any sense of how that's expected to pan out?
Speaker 2: (05:29)
Uh, it's already in motion of the group called let them choose filed a legal complaint last week, uh, in anticipation of the vaccination mandate passing and they are ready to go to court in order to stop it now, to be clear, this is an offshoot of the let them breathe organization, which, uh, actually later this week goes to court on issues regarding mandates for masks. So they will protesting, um, app outside of the school board meeting, which is being held virtually. Uh, so it is more symbolic than anything else, but they, uh, are determined to be heard. And what they also want to make clear is this is not about being an anti-vaxxer so to speak. It is about offering parents the choice, whether to have their own children vaccinated or not.
Speaker 1: (06:20)
I've been speaking with KPBS education reporter mg Perez mg. Thanks for joining us today. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (06:28)
Speaker 1: (06:28)
Some districts reporting, low case rates, that doesn't mean the impact isn't widespread as valley public radio is Mary Bolanos reports. Even small COVID outbreaks at schools have big impacts on families, especially in rural communities.
Speaker 4: (06:44)
Laura Garcia stands outside her home with two of her kids and their ducks, chickens and goats in raised in city, a small unincorporated communities, south west of Fresno. It's a morning in early September, and she's wearing a mask because her oldest daughter, Jennifer who attends raisin city elementary school tested positive for COVID in late August. She says she reached out to other parents in her daughter's class to let them know.
Speaker 5: (07:12)
When I told the parents that my daughter tested positive, some of them said the children were feeling the symptoms, so they tested them as well. And they were
Speaker 4: (07:20)
At least three students in Garcia's daughter's class tested positive for the virus. Following Fresno county health department guidelines. School officials sent all the kids in the class home to quarantine for nearly a week after labor day. The virus of course spread beyond the school children in total, four of Garcia's kids contracted the virus Garcia and her husband also got it. He works in the fields and is the family's sole provider.
Speaker 5: (07:49)
It affects us because he's the only one that wants to pay the rent to buy the stuff for the kids and to pay for the bill.
Speaker 4: (07:56)
The Garcia family. Isn't the only one facing loss of income and education due to the pandemic. An estimated 44% of Latino parents nationwide reported an interruption in employment due to childcare. According to a Kaiser family foundation survey published in late August. It also shows that half of Latino parents with incomes below $40,000 reported their children fell behind academically 40 year old Carmen, thankfully owns 13 year old daughter is another one of the eighth graders at raisin city elementary school who tested positive for COVID while thankful Leone is a single mother of three. She says she also had to take time off from her work in the fields to care for her children. But her biggest concern is the learning loss that her children face through the pandemic. And again, while quarantined,
Speaker 5: (08:51)
The kids are behind barely behind, and of course they need to go to school,
Speaker 4: (08:56)
But we also need to take care of the health of our kids. Tonya Pacheco Warner is co-director of the central valley health policy Institute at Fresno state. She says many people in rural communities have lower education levels and fewer job opportunities. She says that creates a perfect storm, making it difficult for residents to take time off of work, to care for their children.
Speaker 6: (09:18)
We see that burden fall, especially hard on rural families who don't have a lot of other options other than not getting an income during the time that their children have to stay
Speaker 4: (09:32)
At home to prevent parents from losing income while taking care of quarantine kids. But Checko Werner says it's important that local officials collaborate on how to protect students that's especially needed in smaller rural districts.
Speaker 6: (09:46)
It's going to take a state coordinated school-wide school-based effort to really think through how to begin testing and surveillance in those places that simply don't have the infrastructure to do it themselves.
Speaker 4: (10:03)
Nearly three weeks after the raisins city class was sent home to quarantine, Lauder Garcia and Carmen quadrangles families have recovered from their symptoms, but their kids are still recovering from the learning loss and Garcia's husband's employer still hasn't paid him for the two weeks. He was in quarantine. [inaudible] in Fresno.
Parents of children enrolled in the San Marcos Unified School District were given cause for alarm after being informed that some students had been “attending school with known COVID-19 positive test results.”
While the update, which was issued by Superintendent Andy Johnsen, cautioned that these instances were rare, the possibility of positive cases flying under the radar suggested there could be more issues in tracking cases.
KPBS education reporter M.G. Perez joined Midday Edition on Monday to discuss the difficulty in tracking COVID cases at schools.