By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Schools won’t open on time as planned
• County's schools will continue distance learning
CVHS campus shot
Campuses like Central Valley High School will remain virtually deserted for an extended period of time now that district’s plans to offer a return to normalcy has been thwarted by the Stanislaus County Health Department. - photo by Dale Butler

Ceres Unified School District envisioned welcoming students back to their respective campuses for in-person learning on Aug. 12. But along with the rest of the school districts in Stanislaus County, CUSD has to change its plans due to new county health orders issued in response to an increase in cases of the coronavirus.

Ceres Unified families and staff were notified of the change through ParentSquare on July 13.

“Earlier today, during a weekly call between Stanislaus County school district superintendents and the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency, we were informed that the current rate of new infections and hospitalizations in Stanislaus County does not support the safe reopening of schools,” CUSD Supt. Scott Siegel stated. “Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that these conditions will improve sufficiently by August 12 to allow for in-person learning. At this time, CUSD is planning for a robust distance learning program until Stanislaus County schools are allowed to return to face-to-face instruction. We will continue to work closely with our county public health department to ensure that this happens as quickly as conditions allow, but it is not known at this time when reopening will be permitted.

“This is obviously not the news we had hoped for, and we know you will have many questions and concerns as we move toward the start of the new school year,” he added. “More information will be forthcoming soon.”

All public schools in Stanislaus County were closed from March 19 through the 2019-20 spring academic year to help minimize the spread of coronavirus.

Students completed assignments through remote learning.

CUSD’s Distance Learning plan relied heavily on the use of online educational tools such as Google Classroom, Zoom Video Conferencing and Clever. The district provided all of its students with Google Chromebooks at the beginning of the year.

The California Department of Education issued guidance on April 1 which stated, in part, the local education agency should weigh its policies with the lens of equity and with the primary goal of first, doing no harm to students.

“The whole intent of the resolution was to make sure we support students and not punish them for things that may be beyond their control during school closures,” said CUSD Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Amy Peterman.

If CUSD students are allowed to return to campuses this fall, classrooms will be less crowded.

The district still plans to offer an alternative to in-person learning in the form of independent study.

More than 427 preregistration forms have been submitted.

CUSD Custom Classroom K-12 will provide online access to grade-level curriculum with learning supported by credentialed teachers.

“We’ll be communicating with families that selected that option,” said Beth Jimenez, communications specialist for the district. “We’ll find out what their needs and desires are.”

Numerous safety measures will be in place for students if in-person learning is allowed.

“These measures would include social distancing as possible, frequent disinfecting of surfaces, hand-washing/hand-sanitizing protocols, face masks if recommended, and much more,” Siegel said.

The news comes at the same time Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a second round of business shutdowns that affect malls, indoor dining, bars, theaters, beauty and nail salons, fitness centers, churches and family entertainment centers. The closures take place in counties that have seen spikes in COVID-19 numbers. Sonoma was one such county that was open on Sunday and closed on Monday.

Stanislaus County saw a significant jump in positive COVID-19 cases on Thursday when a backlog of tests was recorded, bringing the county’s data in line with the state reporting.

Stanislaus County currently has recorded 5,178 positive coronavirus cases. Between July 8 and 9, the positive case county grew by more than 1,300 as the backlog was reconciled, according to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency. A total of 2,858 cases have been classified as recovered while 38,963 persons who were tested were negative.

Most people who are infected with COVID-19 have mild or no symptoms and the majority recover with no impacts to health. However, between July 7 and 8 the number of deaths grew by five in the county. The 51 reported county deaths attributed to COVID-19 represent 0.00009352 percent of the county’s population of 545,267.

Of the deaths in the county, 88.2 percent were aged 65 years and older. An estimated 7.8 percent of deaths were in the 50-64 age bracket and only 3.9 percent were aged 18 to 49. No children or teens have been claimed in the county by the virus.

The number of presumed active cases is at 2,269, with 316 currently hospitalized, of which, 40 are in ICU, the SCHSA reported.

“More concerning is that our hospital numbers continue to go up,” said Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors Chair Kristin Olsen. “Our hospitals are stretched very thin right now and running very tightly.”

Olsen said all the hospitals in the county are bringing in additional staff so that they can serve as many patients as the number of licensed beds. The county also has a plan to use Scenic General Hospital facility in Modesto to handle cases should a surge start to overwhelm area hospitals.

A look at the county’s data shows that social distancing is being practiced routinely by no more than 10 percent of the population and that if that rate continues, the county will surpass the current number of hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients by the beginning of August.

Currently, Stanislaus County only has 38 percent of the hospital beds available and 32 percent of the ICU beds open. The county has 73 percent of the ventilator supply available, according to the SCHSA.

A surge in transmission and positive tests can result in a spike in hospitalizations, which runs the risk of overwhelming the local healthcare operations. The peaks work like dominoes, with one aspect falling into another. Typically, symptoms appear within two to 14 days of being infected. Once symptoms start showing, it’s usually in the second week of the illness that people experience the worst of the symptoms. Weeks after the peak of transmission are when we would see the peak of hospitalizations. The average rate of hospitalization is around seven days, unless a person has to be put on a ventilator and then the average is about 10 days. The peaks in deaths would hit a couple weeks after the peak in hospitalizations.

As the number of cases has grown locally, so has the mode of transmission. Contact spread from one person to another accounts for 59.69 percent of the cases. Community transmission, which had been down in the 20s, is now at 39.27 percent. Community transmission means there is no known exposure source.

Stanislaus County has conducted 41,324 tests and has a test positivity rate of 11.2 percent.

The increase in cases also is sending more people to the three free testing sites which are causing a wait list. The health department is asking people who believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19, but are currently asymptomatic to schedule a test through their healthcare provider.

Additionally, anyone who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should self-quarantine for at least 10 days.

“By remaining at home, you are helping reduce the spread,” said Olsen.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified the most common symptoms of COVID-19 as fever, dry cough, fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, loss of sense of smell and/or taste and shortness of breath. 

Severe cases of COVID-19 might experience difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest, confusion or inability to arouse, and bluish lips or face. 

Modesto has 1,150 reported cases, followed by 440 in Ceres, 425 in Turlock and 264 in District 5. District 3 has 231 cases, Patterson and Riverbank each have 151 cases and District 2 has 111 cases. Waterford has recorded 60 cases, followed by Oakdale with 57, District 1 with 50 and Newman with 46. Hughson has logged 27 cases. 

Individuals 20 years old or younger make up 14 percent of the cases in Stanislaus County and two percent of the hospitalizations.

Those between the ages of 21 years to 30 years represent 20 percent of the cases and six percent of those hospitalized.

People aged 31 to 40 years account for 19 percent of the cases and 11 percent of the hospitalizations.

Those from 41 years to 50 years make up 17 percent of the cases and 13 percent of those in the hospital.

Individuals between 51 years to 60 years represent 14 percent of the cases and 20 percent of those hospitalized.

People in the age group from 61 to 70 years have seven percent of the cases, but make up 20 percent of those hospitalized.

People from 71 years to 80 years represent four percent of the cases and 15 percent of those in the hospital.

Those 81 years to 90 years account for four percent of the cases and 11 percent of the hospitalizations.

People aged 91 and older represent two percent of the cases and three percent of hospitalizations.

Sabra Stafford and Jeff Benziger contributed to this article.