CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS

Because COVID-19 case rates in San Joaquin County have exceeded a state threshold, schools will not be considered for waivers to allow in-person instruction.

For the last two weeks, private schools across the state have been left wondering if the state’s distance learning mandate in counties on a California Department of Public Health COVID-19 watchlist applied to them.

Last week, the state and San Joaquin County Public Health Services clarified that all schools in the county must implement remote instruction, although some elementary schools could apply for a waiver approved by local health officials.

On Monday night, the CDPH released its guidance for re-opening in-person instruction, and recommended that schools in counties with 14-day case rates more than twice the threshold to be on the state watchlist should not be considered for waivers.

The state’s threshold, according to a CDPH press release, is more than 200 cases per 100,000 residents in a county.

Dr. Maggie Park, San Joaquin County Public Health Officer, said the county’s 14-day case rate is 308 cases per 100,000 residents.

While 308 is not more than twice the threshold, Park said the CDPH has informed counties across the state that the number of positive cases it is releasing to the public are being underreported.

“For those (counties) with more than 200 cases per 100,000, actual numbers will be higher,” she told the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

“Our cases are likely higher than 308,” she said. “We’ve been advised to follow the governor’s mandate, and that advisement means not to honor the waiver.”

Park said the CDPH does not know why actual case numbers are being underreported, but it has deployed an Internet Technology strike team to examine the code used to accept reports from individual counties.

After labs in each county test residents, results are sent to the CDPH electronically. County public health offices then receive total case numbers through the California Reportable Disease Information Exchange system.

Park said it is the CalREDIE system that needs to be examined by the state’s IT strike team. She said the CDPH believes a glitch in the system occurred before the weekend, and it may have even began two weekends ago.

It is unknown when the state will have the reporting problem on its system corrected, Park added.

“Many counties thought they were doing much better and their numbers were going down,” she said. “That caused a problem. Labs are now instructed to manually report to local health departments.”

While public health’s COVID-19 dashboard is currently reporting 11,958 cases as of Tuesday, Park said that number might be higher. The 180 deaths reported Tuesday are believed to be accurate, she said.

Currently, there are 234 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in seven county hospitals, and Park said that seems to have been holding steady for the last few days.

While that is better than an increase, she said the number is not supposed to plateau, but decrease substantially. Until that happens, the county will remain on the state watchlist.

Of those 234 patients, 72 are being treated in intensive care units, and 52 are on ventilators.

Park said she would like to re-open schools, but the prevalence of COVID-19 in the county is too high.

She said children make up 9% of the positive cases in the county, which is in line with the state average. In the 26 states facing high COVID-19 numbers, there have been 186 children that tested positive, 45 of which have died.

“I do feel for the parents who are troubled by this situation,” she said. “But we have to wait for prevalencies to drop. I don’t take this lightly, and I don’t think the state takes this lightly. There will be some learning loss (through distance learning), but I know teachers will do their best. All we can do is follow state mandates.”

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