COVID-19 - Dr. Jim Halverson

Ask Dr. Halverson: Coronavirus transmission for in-school learning can be lower than rates in the community

web 4 17 Halverson photo
By Dr. Jim Halverson
Research from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suggests that schools can consider returning to in-class instruction despite the level of COVID-19 cases occurring in their community when students, teachers and staff consistently wear masks, wash their hands and practice physical distancing, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
Duke and UNC researchers evaluated the transmission of COVID-19 in 11 North Carolina school districts that held in-person instruction in the first nine weeks of the 2020-2021 school year. The study, which included more than 90,000 students and staff attending in-person instruction, was conducted by the ABC Science Collaborative, which is led by the Duke Clinical Research Institute, part of the Duke University School of Medicine.
The ABC Science Collaborative consists of scientists from both Duke and UNC, as well as partnering school districts from across North Carolina. The goal of the program is to keep teachers, students and their local communities healthy and safe. The school districts all have agreed to follow the collaborative’s 12 Principles for Safer Schools. These principles are:
1. Be transparent with reporting cases occurring in the school district to their local community.
2. Make a road map for contact testing and tracing.
3. Develop a dashboard for community COVID-19 data to be available to the local school district.
4. Implement a learning model for school leadership to work with staff to understand how an infection occurred.
5. Work with a trusted third party to analyze the data.
6. Analyze data to inform schools how much COVID-19 spread to expect in schools if there is adherence to masking, physical distancing, and hand washing.
7. Make a detailed schedule of how students, staff and teachers and visitors will adhere to the recommended mitigation measures throughout the school day.
8. Develop a plan for sports and the arts.
9. Develop a plan for special-need students.
10. Commit to adhering to guidelines every day during the pandemic.
11. Develop a communication plan to report any cases and suspected exposures quickly.
12. Start back to in-person learning slowly (for example, in a hybrid model).
The study results showed that there were 32 infections that were acquired within schools during the nine-week study period out of 90,000 students and staff. During that time, there were 773 cases acquired in the communities. “During the study timeframe, we saw significant community spread of COVID-19,” said pediatrician Dr. Danny Benjamin, co-chair of the ABC Science Collaborative. “If we’d seen the same rates of secondary transmission in the schools as we were seeing in the community, we would have expected between 800 and 900 secondary infections in the schools. This indicates that it is possible for schools to safely remain open in communities with widespread community transmission.”
The study results were recently published in the medical journal Pediatrics and were cited on Jan. 27 in a separate viewpoint released by researchers at the CDC and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The CDC called for children to return to classrooms, stating that the evidence demonstrates in-class instruction can be implemented safely if CDC guidelines are followed.
In Ojai, several private schools, including Ojai Valley School and Villanova, have been successful resuming in-person classes. Our Ojai Unified School District will be reopening both Matilija Middle School and Nordhoff High School in small cohorts on Feb. 22. I have had the opportunity to review their Secondary Small Cohort Return to Campus presentation on the school district’s website along with the school district’s COVID-19 Prevention Plan, which has all of their COVID-19 protocols detailed. I feel that our district, under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Morse, has done an outstanding job of making education available both through distance learning and now with the option of a limited and safe in-person learning environment.
Our students, teachers and staff deserve this opportunity to safely return to the classroom for the rest of this school year. I wish all of them well and thank our administrators, teachers and staff for their commitment to provide the best education for all of the students in our valley.

Vaccine update
I continue to hear about the positive experiences people have had getting their vaccines at the county Fairgrounds. Until higher numbers of vaccine doses are able to be produced daily by Pfizer and Moderna (and, hopefully, Johnson and Johnson in the near future) this site will likely be the closest that we have to Ojai. Here are the simple numbers based on our county’s population over the age of 18, which is currently the metric used to distribute vaccine nationwide: 
• 1 million doses produced daily equals 2,400 daily doses for our county.
• 1.5 million doses produced daily equals 3,600 daily doses for our county. The United States is hoping to reach this level of production soon.
• 2 million doses produced daily equals 4,800 daily doses for our county.  
Currently, our county has the capacity to give more than 5,000 doses per day at existing sites. We MUST HAVE more vaccine produced at the national level to enable our county to expand vaccine distribution centers to our smaller communities. Until that time comes, make every effort to schedule and obtain your vaccine dose at the Ventura County Fairgrounds or South Oxnard sites. The website gives information on how to obtain an appointment for your vaccine and transportation if needed.
Stay committed, stay properly informed, stay positive, stay safe and stay well.

— Dr. Jim Halverson is a longtime Ojai physician who writes a weekly column on COVID-19 for the Ojai Valley News.