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COVID-19 outbreaks linked to child-care facilities in Sonoma County

Map showing location of Sonoma County
Sonoma County remains in the most restrictive purple tier of the state’s reopening criteria.
(Los Angeles Times)

A child-care facility is at the heart of a recent uptick in Sonoma County’s coronavirus case counts, giving some county officials pause as elementary schools prepare to reopen.

County health officials have traced an outbreak of at least 30 cases to one student at a child-care center in Sonoma’s north county. The facility closed for a two-week quarantine after at least 16 students, 11 relatives and three staff members tested positive for the coronavirus, county health officer Dr. Sundari Mase said.

“I don’t think it’s surprising, but it is something that gives us a little pause when we think about going back to reopening schools,” Mase said at a virtual briefing last week.

Sonoma County remains in the most restrictive purple tier of the state’s reopening criteria, meaning most in-person services are prohibited, including K-12 schools. But the state has allowed child care and day camps to stay open. And because of a small drop in coronavirus cases last week, elementary schools in Sonoma County are now eligible to apply for waivers that would allow in-person classes.

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K-12 schools in Los Angeles are not allowed to be open at the moment. Yet many schools have reopened anyway, either by outsourcing their facilities to established providers like the Y, or by rebranding as day camps, which are license-exempt and virtually unregulated in California.

Schools Supt. Steven Herrington cautioned schools to go slowly when seeking to reopen. Not all tools for contact tracing and testing are in place yet, he said.

“We are both empathetic and supportive of parents and the stress that they’re under. We know that distance learning is challenging for both child and parent,” Herrington said.

“Compound that with the fires and smoke, it’s been hard on everyone. So I want to acknowledge that. We’re not taking a position of recommending anything other than safety, first and foremost.”

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Including the outbreak at the north county facility, Sonoma County health officials have counted 62 COVID-19 cases at 13 child-care facilities or schools that provide day care. In total, Sonoma County child-care facilities have accounted for positive tests in 27 family members, 25 students and 10 staff, according to Mase, and 381 cases of children younger than 17 are still under investigation.

The spread of the virus among young people is to be expected, Mase said.

“It may be harder to implement mitigation measures such as facial coverings and social distancing, especially among younger kids in these settings,” Mase said.


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