RivCo health officer says county’s COVID-19 case rate must drop before state will accept TK-6 reopening waivers

In this Tuesday, July 14, 2020 file photo, amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, teachers check students before a summer STEM camp at Wylie High School in Wylie, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Riverside County’s public health officer said Thursday that while the county intends to participate in the waiver process that could allow some TK-6 schools in the county to reopen in counties on the statewide coronavirus monitoring list, it sits just above the 14-day case rate threshold over which state health officials advise not to approve any waivers.

The California Department of Public Health has advised that counties with a 14-day case rate more than 200 per 100,000 residents should not grant waivers, Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser said.

Because of issues with the state’s COVID-19 case database, Kaiser said, CDPH has frozen the county data chart, leaving Riverside County at a rate of 202 cases per 100,000.

State officials have indicated they will decline to accept waivers for Riverside County schools until the state has a reliable case rate for the county and it is under the 200 cases per 100,000 threshold.

“This benchmark is based on the county as a whole; there is no state provision for waivers for regions within a county,” Kaiser said. “Therefore, we will accept applications once the countywide case rate is reliable and below that threshold. In the meantime, distance education is permitted for all K-12 schools, and schools should encourage their communities to socially distance, wear facial coverings and avoid gatherings in order to facilitate sustained reductions in case rates.”

Some local school districts, including Temecula Valley Unified, have previously expressed interest in applying for waivers to reopen in-person instruction for K-6 students once a process was made available by state and county officials.

Kaiser said schools interested in applying should be aware that the process for a waiver application requires “written proof of consultation with community organizations, teachers’ unions (if applicable) and parent organizations.”

Additionally, he said the county will require schools to prevent their response plan for an exposure to a coronavirus cases, their plan for assigning students to cohorts and maintaining them, as well as their plan for staff testing every two months, in accordance with state in-person instruction reopening framework.

The county cannot act as schools’ testing resource, he said, and schools are advised to work with staff members’ medical plans or contract with a third-party testing provider.

Any California-licensed lab or testing provider is acceptable, Kaiser said. The state does offer a searchable testing task force lab list.

Kaiser said the county recognizes there will be questions regarding the application process, and schools may submit requests for technical advice — including the adequacy of proposed documentation — although advice given by the county does not guarantee acceptance of applications by either state or county officials.

“Finally, schools should be aware that the County Public Health Department may choose a phased-in approach with a selection of schools per supervisorial district in order to evaluate risk and probability of outbreak, rather than opening all applicants at once,” Kaiser said. “This will be based on the number of applications received and in which regions. Schools may be closed by the state or the local health officer if outbreak thresholds are exceeded.”

Waivers are not automatically granted and may be withdrawn, Kaiser said.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.