MARIN COUNTY, CA — Despite an omicron-fueled case surge that led Marin to reinstate a mask mandate last week, the idea closing schools is off the table for now, Marin officials said.
Although experts believe the surge hasn’t yet peaked, Marin County Office of Education official told Patch that school officials believe Marin can weather storm.
Marin has not yet reported any school closures this academic year and although a few staff members were under quarantine, staffing levels were at close to pre-pandemic levels as of Monday, MCOE Director Mike Grant told Patch.
“There are a couple of our staffers who are quarantined, but not an overwhelming amount,” Grant said.
Marin health officials and the county’s top school administrator issued a joint statement Friday that acknowledged the community’s concerns about schools amid the case surge fueled by the hyper-infectious variant.
“With the Omicron variant circulating, we are fortifying mitigation strategies to ensure the safest possible return to school and to support the health and wellbeing of Marin students,” Marin Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis, Deputy Health Officer Lisa M. Santora and Marin County Superintendent Mary Jane Burke said in the statement.
The officials announced that a virtual public meeting addressing health concerns about schools will be held Thursday.
A robust testing program, high vaccination rates and strict adherence to coronavirus guidelines make Marin schools as prepared as perhaps any district in the country to weather the omicron surge.
“We’re feeling good at this point that we’re going to be able to continue to operate for in-school instruction,” Grant said.
Marin reported a single-day case record Dec. 27 with 516 and its 14-day average is up a stunning 590 percent as Jan. 2, according to data compiled by The New York Times.
The case numbers haven’t correlated with hospitalizations, which are up just 43 percent over the same 14-day period.
Despite the steep rise in cases, Grant deflected the notion that closing some schools amid the omicron wave at some point was inevitable.
“We’re in good position because we have such great guidance in place and because we have such a great partnership with Public Health,” Grant said.
Marin public officials’ view largely reflects that of most Bay Area school districts, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
“We must do everything possible to keep students safely attending schools,” San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip said in a statement Wednesday.
“The mental health impacts on students due to social isolation far outweigh the challenges of in-person learning.”
Marin students were given test kits before leaving for holiday break and were encouraged (but not required) to use before returning to classes.
About a third of Marin students started returned to classrooms from winter break Monday and all students won’t be back until Wednesday as the districts holds pre-planned professional training, Grant said.
About 96,000 tests were distributed in Marin, Willis, the county’s health officer, told The Chronicle.
Willis told the news outlet the district is planning for the possibility that certain classes may need to go virtual, but not entire schools.
“The biggest concern would be staff shortages based on isolation,” Willis told The Chronicle.
As of Monday, 89.6 percent of all Marin residents have completed their vaccine series and 96.4 percent of county residents have received at least one jab, according to the county's vaccination dashboard.
Among Marin's eligible population (ages 5 and over), 92.9 percent of eligible Marin residents have completed their vaccine series and 98.0 percent of county residents have gotten at least one shot.
Marin tops the state with the highest vaccination rate and the North Bay county ranks among the nation's top 10 in that department among all counties (regardless of population), The New York Times reports.
Marin was the nation's most vaccinated county among those with a population over 250,000, according to data compiled earlier this year by The San Francisco Chronicle.
To register for the Public Health Update for the School Community virtual meeting, visit here.