Proposed Partnership Focuses on Keeping Safe

Proposed Partnership Focuses on Keeping Schools Safe When In-person Instruction Resumes
Posted on 08/18/2020
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While many have focused on when schools will reopen for the 2020-21 school year, the Chula Vista Elementary School District continues to invest considerable time and energy on how to reopen schools safely. How do we keep our students, teachers, staff, and community safe when we return to in-person instruction? How will we know if our District is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases across our diverse population? How can we best support students, teachers, staff, and community who test positive for COVID-19, or have documented exposure?

Our schools do not exist in a vacuum. With 46 schools, nearly 30,000 students and their families, along with thousands of teachers and staff living, learning, and working within our large community footprint, CVESD understands the impact a surge in COVID-19 cases might have when our schools reopen. That knowledge has informed our development of a 77-page (and growing) proposed safety plan that addresses safe operation of all aspects of our District’s work. Key to that and all safe school reopening plans is accurate and timely data that serves to provide the information necessary to drive the best decisions for all involved.

The Governor’s recently announced pandemic plan centered on five key areas, including public health guidance that recommends “staff in every California school be tested for COVID-19 periodically based on local disease trends and as testing capacity allows.” The Governor also announced that the state will provide resources and technical assistance for COVID-19 case follow-up in school settings.

This focus on how to reopen our schools safely and the desire to have data that can indicate if it is, in fact, safe for our schools to provide in-person instruction has led CVESD to seek partners who might provide that valuable and specific information.

Thanks to a personal connection between a District employee who endured a severe bout with COVID-19 last spring, and the Chief Medical Officer of a fully integrated bioscience company based in Irvine, our District has the unique opportunity to bring an FDA-authorized and HIPAA-compliant testing and tracking plan to our District community—at no cost to the District.

CVESD and Kahala Biosciences have engaged in exploratory conversations around the development of a COVID-19 continuous quality improvement project when schools are able to resume in-person instruction. Working with possibly five of our schools and with voluntary participation, the proposed project would focus on determining the level of active cases among our District population, identifying what interventions work to mitigate spread of the virus, and analyzing the emotional response by students and staff toward testing and symptom monitoring.

“A natural tension seems to exist between the urgency of reopening our schools and the desire to safeguard everyone’s health. This is a false dilemma,” said Dr. Francis Duhay, a thoracic surgeon and CEO of Kahala Biosciences. “The innovative continuous quality improvement project being developed by CVESD and Kahala Biosciences is designed to methodically resume in-person instruction while limiting COVID-19 spread and protect the health of all students, teachers, and staff. If successful, this could serve as the blueprint for our entire state.”

As Dr. Duhay mentions, CVESD and Kahala Biosciences are currently working to develop a continuous quality improvement approach to safely reintegrate our schools—when our local health officials determine it is safe to resume. The approach includes two features critical to the safety of the District community: Testing and Daily Symptom Monitoring. During the proposed six-week project timeframe, voluntary testing of students, teachers, and staff will take place about every two weeks. Project participants are tested for the COVID-19 virus as well as antibodies initially. Testing takes place on-site at participating schools and would follow established medical protocols to ensure safety and privacy of all participants. Moreover, daily symptom monitoring is compulsory using a secure, digital platform. Participants enter any COVID-19-related symptoms on a daily basis. Anyone testing positive would be instructed to self-isolate for 14 days and until all symptoms have improved. District personnel will also provide recommendations and referrals to ensure that the individual receives appropriate medical attention and support.

With approval of the project participants, the data collected would be made available to school and District leaders to monitor infection rates for each school and to determine if the site remains a safe environment for students, teachers, staff, and the community.

“Participation in this project is strictly voluntary,” said Superintendent Francisco Escobedo, Ed.D. “There is no cost to our District for participation. Access to data on COVID-19 cases at a site or local level is crucial for making informed decisions. Our Governor and public health officials have made periodic COVID-19 testing of staff in every California school a key part of California’s pandemic plan.”

Stated simply, the goals of the proposed safe school reopening continuous quality improvement project are: 1. To evaluate the effectiveness of regular testing and daily symptom monitoring to prevent COVID-19 spread 2. To safely guide informed relaxation of school interventions.

For CVESD, participation in this project with Kahala Biosciences means having access to data beyond what the County of San Diego and the City of Chula Vista can presently provide. Without it we would have no way of knowing whether our safety protocols are effective, or how safe our school campuses really are.

In the weeks ahead, CVESD will continue its dialogue with Kahala Biosciences and District stakeholders to design a project that answers the questions related to how to safely reopen schools and how to secure timely, accurate information to inform future decisions.

“What happens in our schools reflects and may actually amplify COVID-19 disease activity in our communities. Maintaining a well-managed and thoughtful back-to-school program will likely require incorporating a testing strategy designed to provide vital data to inform these difficult decisions,” said Dr. Michael Miyamoto, Chief Medical Officer at Kahala Biosciences. “We look forward to partnering with CVESD and all of the community stakeholders to work toward an approach that maximizes safety while allowing the District to deliver on its educational mission.”

To learn more about the proposed project and how it might be implemented, please review the following presentation by CVESD Superintendent Dr. Francisco Escobedo and Dr. Francis Duhay and Dr. Michael Miyamoto from Kahala Biosciences.

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