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Benchmarks key for return to campuses
• Case rate must first drop below standard
CUSD first day
Ceres school campuses could reopen if the county falls below COVID-19 case standards.

Local officials have discussed the possibility of schools re-opening for in-person learning in recent weeks.

But COVID benchmarks would have to be met before that takes place, which includes being removed from the state watchlist.

“Per CDPH (California Department of Public Health) guidance, schools cannot open for in-person education until our 14-day case rate has dropped below 100 per 100,000 and stays there for 14 days,” Stanislaus County Public Health Officer Julie Vaishampayan stated in a press release on Aug. 24. “Current state guidance allows local public health to begin considering elementary school opening through a waiver process when the 14-day case rate is below 200 per 100,000. This is based on data showing that elementary school children are less likely to become infected, less likely to become extremely sick, and less likely to spread this infection.”

Stanislaus County had an average of 287 cases per 100,000 residents over the last 14 days as of Aug. 21. The 14-day case rate was close to 700 on July 26.

“COVID-19 moves amazingly fast,” Vaishampayan said. “Two months ago, we started seeing an increase in our cases.  One month ago, our cases peaked.  One month from now, we hope to be seeing even lower case rates.  Based on current trend, we may drop below 200 cases per 100,000 in the next week. Now is the time to plan for elementary schools to begin the process of re-opening.”

Ceres Unified School District Supt. Scott Siegel provided an update to families regarding clearance to return to school on its website and through ParentSquare on Aug. 21.

“While we will begin to explore what a waiver might look like for our district, I am cognizant of several factors,” said Siegel . “Our stakeholders (parents and staff) need to be involved. I am concerned about a rush to reopen similar to what occurred in our society in May that led us to the situation we are in now. I am not convinced that the number of new cases, testing and contact tracing are indicative of reopening at this time. I also want to be very appreciative of the fact that changing our distance learning model to include limited in-person instruction might lessen the effectiveness of what we are doing. With all of that said, I also know that we want to see our students back in classrooms. Balancing these competing interests demands that we proceed cautiously and thoughtfully.”

“Please know that the safety and best interests of our students and staff will drive this planning,” he added. “We may also proceed more slowly than other districts. As we navigate the planning process, I would rather be careful than fast.”

“Once our case rates are down, there will be many options for our schools to choose from in support of learning for their students,” Vaishampayan stated. “Public Health will continue to collaborate with school leadership as they work to ensure that students are provided meaningful and equitable opportunities to learn and succeed in all learning models. Ultimately, how any school or school district operates is up to them to follow state guidelines and work through with their stakeholders.”

Stanislaus County had a total of 14,710 positive coronavirus cases to date as of Aug. 31. There have been 258 deaths.