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August 24, 2021 7:54 AM

Recommendation of the Health Officer: Outdoor Masking in School Settings

This Sonoma County Health Order is no longer in effect. This content is provided for historical reference only.

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Health Officer Strongly Recommends Outdoor Masking in School Settings

The Health Officer strongly recommends outdoor masking for all students and staff at public, private, parochial and charter schools across the county.

This recommendation is based on the high incidence of COVID-19 currently being experienced in our county and the increase in transmissibility of the Delta variant.

Masking in the school setting is already required indoors and the added level of protection of masking outdoors will help minimize the spread of COVID 19 on campus as well as enable students to stay in school and have the fewest possible interruptions to in person learning.

Outdoor masking increases the likelihood that a student who is exposed can remain in school.  In the event that there is an exposure to COVID 19 if all parties are masked, the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) recommends that the exposed student may remain in school under a “modified quarantine.”   Mask on mask exposures allow students to remain in school as long as they remain without symptoms and agree to undergo twice weekly COVID 19 testing.  According to the CDPH guidance, unvaccinated exposed students can remain in school but must adhere to the quarantine order while outside of the school setting.

If students need a mask break, the Health Officer recommends that they socially distance themselves while the mask is off during the break.

This recommendation from Sonoma County Public Health is meant to minimize the spread of COVID-19 while supporting much needed in person instruction.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends mask use because of evidence showing the effectiveness of face covering in two ways. For infected people, masks reduce the risk they will infect another person. For people who are not infected, wearing a mask reduces the risk they will be infected, even if someone around them is spreading the virus. Because the risk of transmission between two people is lowest when both are masked (“mask on mask”), universal masking is regarded as the safest policy. CDC also recommends masking in outdoor settings for people who are unvaccinated and in sustained close contact with other people (e.g., playground activity). The American Association of Pediatrics echoes CDC’s recommendation and supports universal masking on school campuses to protect unvaccinated students from COVID-19 and reduce transmission, recognizing a significant portion of the student population remains unvaccinated either because of personal choice or ineligibility.

To maximize effectiveness, masks should be worn to cover the nose and entire chin, preferably pinched snugly around the nose and the sides of the face. A mask can be made of cloth, fabric, or other breathable material, but it should not have holes. N95 masks are not recommended for children. 

Health Officer strongly discourages overnight field trips in all school settings

The Health Officer strongly discourages overnight field trips for all students at public, private, parochial and charter schools across the county.

This recommendation is made based on the high incidence of COVID-19 currently being experienced in our county and the increase in transmissibility of the Delta variant. As we continue to see widespread transmission particularly among households who live in close proximity, the goal is to limit settings which approximate households where individuals are in close contact with each other.

This guidance is subject to change based on the release of updated guidance governing field trips, overnight field trips and extracurricular activities by California Department of Public Health.

Health Officer strongly recommends surveillance testing in all school settings

The Health Officer strongly recommends weekly surveillance testing for all students (both vaccinated and unvaccinated).

This recommendation is made in light of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, which is more contagious, may cause more severe illness than previous strains and is now dominant in the United States and California. Surveillance testing allows for early identification and isolation of infected individuals and thus mitigates the spread of the virus on campus, enabling more students to remain in the classroom overall. This recommendation builds upon the State requirement that all unvaccinated school workers undergo regular testing regardless of symptoms. Because of the highly contagious nature of the Delta variant, surveillance testing is also encouraged for fully vaccinated staff.

The Health Officer understands that adoption of this recommendation    is dependent on several factors including staffing and resources. In situations when weekly surveillance testing is not feasible, it is advised to test as frequently as possible. For example, schools may opt to test all students every ten days or every other week, 25% of the student body every week or 50% every other week, etc.

Any FDA-approved COVID-19 tests will be effective (PCR or antigen); however, there are some situations when positive antigen tests should be confirmed with a PCR test and an individual should isolate while awaiting those results. SCPH does not recommend using a second antigen test to confirm a positive antigen test. If students are tested less often than once weekly, a PCR-based test (NAAT) is recommended.

SCPH continues to strongly recommend surveillance testing of sports teams (athletes, coaches, referees) with weekly PCR or twice-weekly antigen tests. For high-contact sports, proof of vaccination or a negative test result within 72 hours of participation in a game is also strongly recommended.