Marin elementary schools see slight COVID-19 uptick

Although Marin COVID-19 cases are generally declining, four elementary schools have temporarily reinstated indoor mask mandates in individual classrooms after small clusters of cases were reported, officials said.

The county also is tracking coronavirus cases at two other elementary schools where infections are spreading outside of individual classrooms, said Dr. Matt Willis, the county’s public health officer.

“We haven’t heard of any schools reinstating a full indoor mask mandate, where they’re saying everyone has to wear a mask,” Willis said. He said there were no reports of case clusters at Marin middle or high schools.

“We should expect some normal waxing and waning of transmission within the general downward trend,” Willis said. “I think that’s what we’re seeing — since our wastewater levels continue to decline.”

Willis declined to name the elementary schools with the coronavirus upticks.

“The schools share information with the impacted schools directly,” he said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Marin is at the low rate of community COVID-19 transmission.

John Carroll, Marin superintendent of schools, said he and county staff are following the lead of public health officials in monitoring the “ups and downs” of COVID-19.  So far, that strategy has not led to any countywide updates in rules or procedures, he said.

“There have been no systemic changes,” Carroll said. “We’re just following the guidance from public health as we see fit.”

As of Friday, the Marin public health coronavirus dashboard reported 53 cases within the past week at Marin elementary schools, 16 at middle schools and 30 at high schools. In the last two weeks, 224 cases have been reported.

In Marin, 37% of 5- to 11-year-olds, 65% of 12- to 15-year-olds and 71% of 16- to 17-year-olds have been vaccinated and boosted, according to the dashboard.

In general, a cluster at a school is considered an outbreak when 5% or more of the school population is infected, Willis said. A schoolwide outbreak might require indoor masking or other changes in protocols.

“One reassuring shift we’re seeing this far into the pandemic is that schools know how to manage clusters of cases, and are taking steps to limit spread,” Willis added.

Preemptive steps that Marin schools are taking include “putting in place temporary mask mandates, passing out tests, asking for negative tests to return in some cases, increasing ventilation, encouraging close symptom monitoring and staying home when sick,” Willis said.

In particular, the county is urging upgrades to ventilation in classrooms by making sure air purifiers are running on high continuously throughout the day, and by having windows open whenever possible.

“We will be monitoring variants closely, especially XBB, to determine whether this might be at play if cases continue to rise,” Willis said, referring to the XBB.1.5 subvariant of the omicron virus. The XBB.1.5 subvariant now makes up more than half of U.S. COVID-19 cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Willis said that while XBB.1.5 has been detected in Marin, it appears to be spreading more slowly than in other parts of the country. Still, he said, being fully vaccinated and boosted is the best strategy to avoid an infection or hospitalization.

“For anyone who’s not up to date with their shots, these clusters are good reminders that the virus is still active — and that the protection of the vaccine remains important,” Willis said.

On Friday, the state announced it will not make children get the coronavirus vaccine to attend schools, reversing a state policy first announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021. Both Marin and the state will lift their respective COVID-19 state of emergency declarations on Feb. 28, Willis said. The federal government will lift its COVID-19 state of emergency declaration on May 10, he said.

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