Last year, many K-12 schools in Orange County systemized distance learning as the pandemic continued indefinitely. Even after the situation got a little better with the availability of vaccines, the majority of schools maintained a hybrid system where students alternated between distance learning and in-person learning. However, this year, many changes will occur as students return to full on-campus learning. For safety requirements, the protocols for masks, social distancing, food services, unvaccinated students, and quarantine recommendations have been updated.
First, masks are required to be worn at all times when indoors, for both staff and students, and they are optional when outdoors. (There could be an exception, in the situations where students have a medical issue that prevents them from wearing masks, they are allowed to wear a face shield with a drape instead.) In terms of physical distancing, distancing 3 feet apart is recommended, but they are not required as recent evidence proves that the in-person school system can occur safely without social distancing under the assumption that other rules are thoroughly carried out.
There are also some changes in food services. Since students are not masked during lunch time, social distancing is required, so schools will have to maximize the distance between students by providing additional seating space. Lunch areas will be expanded to the gymnasium or other outdoors areas, and these areas will be frequently sanitized. However, there are no limits to provide lunch services only with packaged meals as recent studies proved that there is a low risk of infection from shared objects or surfaces.
Lastly, if a student has a symptom for COVID-19, they should first be tested and quarantined if there is a positive test. The quarantine will last until they meet the specific criteria: 24 hours without fever and medicine, negative test result or confirmation as an alternative disease, passing 10 days since the symptoms have started, and improved symptoms. For the unvaccinated students, if they had close contact with a symptomatic student within 6 feet of distance and for more than 15 minutes, they will also be recommended for quarantine for 10 days.
To sum up, many changes are being made in the school system to bring students back to in-person education while minimizing the effect of COVID-19 on the reopening. Moreover, since the consequences of these changes cannot be known yet, by November 1, 2021 CDPH(California Department of Public Health) is going to analyze the effects of these changes and decide whether to update these requirements.