OC Health Care Agency director reviewing school waivers for return to in-person teaching

Several Orange County schools that want to reopen for in-person instruction have submitted their waiver applications to health officials.

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Monday, August 17, 2020
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Several Orange County schools that want to reopen for in-person instruction have submitted their waiver applications to health officials.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- The Interim Orange County Health Officer and Director of the O.C. Health Care Agency made an emotional plea to county residents Friday, as he prepared to review waiver applications for in-person teaching.

Dr. Clayton Chau's message: wear your masks.

"We as the adults and even for people who fight wearing masks and do not want to wear masks, this is not about you. This is about our children. This is about our next generation ... I can appeal to them that you need to do this. You need to do this little sacrifice because we have to ensure that our environment is safe for our children to grow," Chau said.

That environment in Orange County is not equal for everyone.

Data from the OCHCA showed the testing positivity percent is more than double that of the county for the cities of Santa Ana and Anaheim. Thursday's percent for the county was 7.6% and those for Santa Ana and Anaheim were 19.4 and 19.1, respectively.

RELATED: OC pediatric COVID-19 rate shows signs of slowing down despite increase in cases

Chau said although it was critical to get children back to school, the decision was not black and white.

"We need to look at the epidemiological data. We need to look at their own health. We need to look at the flexibility and how we do this. Do we cohort them? Definitely though, we have to have a mixed model," Chau said.

Counties land on the state's monitoring list if they have a testing positivity percent above eight. When that number is below eight 14 days in a row, all grade levels can get back into the classroom.

According to county staff calculations, O.C. has been consistently below eight percent since Aug. 12.

"I believe that we have been there for a few days now based on our own calculation. I'm optimistic, but I'm not 100% sure," Chau said.

That uncertainty comes because of inaccurate test result reports from the state's platform which put the monitoring list on hold.

It's unclear when day one of that two-week count begins.

"Once the monitoring list is active again, will the state go back and calculate and say, 'Oh, Orange County, you have been off the list for x number of days,' or will the state say, 'OK, we'll start the clock and today is day one when you're off the list.' That I don't know," Chau said.

In the meantime, Chau prepared to review about 50 waiver applications submitted so far Friday to begin in-person education.

Among the requirements were consultations with parent and labor organizations, a post of the school's reopening plan and application on its website and a county case rate below 200 per 100,000.

Chau will consult with the California Department of Public Health in making his decision.

OCHCA staff recommend applicants submit everything at least 14 days prior to their desired reopening date.

For the latest news on back to school and educational resources, visit abc7.com/backtoschool.

For the latest updates and resources on the coronavirus, visit abc7.com/coronavirus.