Francis Scott Key Elementary School is one of the San Francisco Unified schools returning to in-person classes this fall. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Francis Scott Key Elementary School is one of the San Francisco Unified schools returning to in-person classes this fall. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF school District, health officials relying on data, safety measures as in-person learning resumes this month

With all San Francisco public schools reopening their doors in less than two weeks — some for the first time in a year and a half — school district and city health officials said this week they’re taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

During a virtual town hall held on Tuesday evening, officials with the San Francisco Department of Public Health said that based on COVID-19 data, the risk of transmission with in-person learning is low.

Last school year, the San Francisco Unified School District reported no outbreaks at schools, as well as none in summer camps or learning hubs.

Back in April, the school district resumed in-person learning at elementary schools for the first time since the start of the pandemic, and within that time, among 48,000 students and staff, only seven COVID-19 cases involving in-school transmission were reported.

“That’s really incredible,” said SFDPH Deputy Health Director Dr. Naveena Bobba, referring to the data. “But it also shows that there’s good data and science on how schools can reopen and really reduce transmission.”

She added, “I will say that we are not expecting cases in schools to be zero … community transmission and in-home transmission will still occur. But the goal is that we have everything in place to prevent transmission from happening in schools to the best degree possible.”

Schools will still have to adhere to indoor mask mandates, regardless of vaccination status, aligning with the recent citywide health order made by Mayor London Breed that went into effect on Tuesday.

“Face masks are not required outdoors because outdoors allows for natural ventilation and makes the risk of the virus much lower,” Bobba said.

Other precautions against the spread of COVID-19 include increased ventilation protocols within classrooms and outdoor eating with distancing for students who aren’t vaccinated.

Social distancing, however, won’t be required within classrooms.

In addition, SFDPH will continue to continue to respond to any possible cases or exposures at schools, conducting case investigations and contact tracing. Also, SFDPH is planning to set up vaccination sites at schools within the coming months.

The number of cases citywide have spiked due to the contagious delta variant, with 235 daily average cases currently being reported compared to just 16 cases a month ago. But health officials are relying on data that shows the delta variant causes only mild or no symptoms in children, with the most serious cases and hospitalizations affecting unvaccinated teens and adults.

For this reason, health officials are continuing to advocate for everyone 12 and up get vaccinated.

“We have strongly encouraged all of our staff to get vaccinated,” SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews said. “We are currently assessing who is vaccinated and we’re going to use that data to determine what our next steps will be.”

All SFUSD schools are set to open their doors on Aug. 16.

“We know that some of the students were able to return back in April, but many of our older students have not been back on campus so we are going to be spending time building relations and building community,” he said. “We want them to know we care about them deeply and we want them to know that the environment they’re coming back to is a safe environment.”

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