Public Health announces new COVID-19 protocols for schools


(Courtesy of Marin Public Health Department)

By Lauren Felder, Editor-in-Chief

Addressing Marin’s current COVID-19 status and how it pertains to schools across the county, Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matthew Willis and Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Lisa Santora hosted a Public Health Update via Zoom on Jan. 4 to address Marin’s current COVID-19 status and how it pertains to schools across the county. Alongside Marin County Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke, they primarily discussed rising cases of the new Omicron variant and its impact on schools. 

As a preface to their school-oriented segment, Willis provided a snapshot into recent COVID-19 cases in Marin, highlighting the rise in the average daily cases. “Our case rates on Dec. 17, which was that Friday before the winter holiday, were 38 cases per day. It was almost all Delta,” Willis said. “On Jan. 1, the [average] number of cases per day … was 284 in Marin County. [That’s] over a seven-fold increase over a two-week period.”

Willis sees the surge in Omicron cases as an opportunity to take a step back and consider what the top concerns are. “First priority is to limit hospitalizations and deaths. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing,” Willis said during the meeting. In addition to public health, he added, “I’m concerned about the disruption to our infrastructure. Our schools, our hospitals and healthcare, first responders, law enforcement, and other essential sectors that are adversely impacted by such high case rates and people becoming too ill to work.” Willis further explained that while Marin schools are currently stable, “staffing is stretched thin in some domains.”

Tamalpais High School has experienced this strain due to staff testing positive or otherwise needing to be home with their young quarantined children. Administration has been working to ensure that the school gets through the Omicron surge with as little disruption as possible, according to assistant principal Kaki McLachlan. “We’ve utilized a variety of strategies, including bringing back classroom monitors for staff zooming in, calling in extra subs each day for last minute coverage, and asking staff to cover each other during their prep periods. Staff covering for staff has really been the magic piece to this all,” McLachlan said to The Tam News in an email.

To prevent further outbreaks on campus while also minimizing disruption as much as possible, Public Health has outlined new guidelines for Marin schools to abide by. “Isolation can end after day five [since first testing positive] with a return to school on day six if fever-free for more than 24 hours without the use of Tylenol or Motrin, symptoms are resolving, and a there’s a negative Covid test on or after day five,” Santora said during the meeting. The Public Health update explained that in the case of a student or staff member testing positive on the fifth day, they can test again on day seven and if negative, they can go to school. If they’re still testing positive on day seven, they need to complete the ten full days of isolation and can then return on day 11. This aligns with the current policies of the Tam administration and students are to follow quarantine regulations accordingly. 

Due to the high demand and subsequent challenge in acquiring at-home tests, it can be difficult to test between each interval. “We’re working hard with the office of education and our partners to distribute more tests into our school community … It’s our priority to keep schools open and that’s why providing tests to staff is our primary focus,” Santora said. 

On Jan. 6, Tam High administration adjusted its position on allowing indoor-sports spectators in accordance to evolving Public Health guidelines. “This morning, Marin County Public Health updated its guidance around indoor school-related events including sports and performances to allow up to 50 parents/guardians (for sports it will be 25 parents/guardians per team) per indoor event,” Tam Admin wrote in their email and Parent Square post to students, staff, and guardians. 

The Public Health update also addressed new mask requirements. “School staff should wear surgical-grade masks or higher-level PPE (e.g., KN95 or N95 respirator masks). For those wearing surgical masks, double masking, with a cloth face covering worn over the surgical mask, is recommended for enhanced protection,” Public Health wrote in its update. “Masking should be worn outdoors when physical distancing is not feasible, except while eating or drinking.”

Willis concluded the meeting with a look toward the future: “The Omicron variant is a glimpse of the future which is that while it’s highly contagious, it is not as virulent and we are not going to be able to manage this through aggressive social policies that prevent people from interacting. That is the past, that is not the future,” Willis stated. “Rather, it’s a matter of living with this, an endemic relationship that’s sustainable. This transition, as painful and drastic as it is … is actually going to set us up for a much better long-term future and a sustainable relationship with something that will be a manageable ongoing risk.”