LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- More than 300,000 students returned to Clark County School District classrooms Jan. 5 amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the valley.
Clark County's test positivity rate has now surpassed the surge Southern Nevadans saw in the summer, and the total number COVID-19 cases within CCSD has jumped 14% since Monday.
Now, staff and families are making their final preparations to head back to school; but a vague memo from CCSD communications officials left many in the district with more questions than answers.
On Dec. 30, CCSD published a memo they sent parents that reads, in part, "We are working with local and state health officials to monitor ongoing COVID-19 developments and are aware of the recent surge in positivity rates in our community. Mitigation strategies are in place to protect the health of our students and staff through our cleaning protocols by preparing CCSD schools and facilities for their safe return."
Kennard shared her reaction.
"How is this going to be implemented day-to-day?" asked Rebecca Kennard, in regards to the memo. She is a CCSD high school teacher.
With the new variant being so highly infectious, even in kids, the question many are asking FOX5 is whether CCSD is taking any new actions to prevent transmission.
We reached out to the district for details. At 6 p.m. Tuesday they said parents should refer to this brochure for COVID-19 guidance. They also said they trained staff Tuesday to implement these strategies for the spring semester:
- "Ensuring social distancing for all activities;
- Seating charts for students and staff for easier COVID tracing;
- Operations of Schools:
- [Ensuring] the well room and sick room are operational;
- Supplies are available, including first aid supplies and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the sick room, well room, and self-contained special education classrooms.
- [Ensuring] ample quantities of cleaning supplies.
- [Ensuring] the R-Zero UV-C Arc Unit is utilized for disinfection at the school on a daily basis and when needed."
Kennard said, in response, "None of this is new... A custodian came in to give me new hand sanitizer, three new bottles, and I got an email to upload my new seating charts for the quarter to our Canvas account. That's it."
She said she feels this is an example of the district "doing what the district does best: deflect, and ignore until it becomes worse." She continued, "And it will get worse."
Meanwhile, amid custodial staff shortages among other labor gaps, concerns are rising for keeping airborne transmission at bay.
"Individual sites do not have enough bodies to physically clean," said Kennard.
John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association, weighed in on the matter. He told FOX5, "We have a shortage of substitutes, and we have a number of classrooms who have a lot of kids in them."
Ventilation is also a top concern, as experts say COVID-19 infections happen mostly via airborne transmission. Kennard said about 190 students rotate through her classroom every two days, but that she doesn't have window ventilation as an option.
"Many schools do not have windows that open," she said. "I have plenty of windows in my room, none of them open! But let's also say you're in a portable. You don't have windows at all."
A local public health expert said Tuesday that cloth masks may not do the trick. She advises parents mask their children appropriately, including the option of double-masking.
"At a minimum, it should be a surgical mask, and then a cloth mask on top," said Dr. Christina Madison, an associate professor at Roseman University and a public health expert, also known as The Public Health Pharmacist. "Really what's best, is that KN95 or N95."
The CDC also released new standards recommending that people wear masks made up of at least two layers: ones that fit snugly against the sides of your face, without any gaps.
Dr. Madison told FOX5 a well-fitting mask is one several actions you can take to ensure your student stays healthy in school buildings.
"No one should be just wearing a cloth mask at this point," said Madison. "For smaller children, it might be a little bit more difficult for them to breathe through the N95, or KN95, but surgical masks can be used."
Dr. Madison added that the best line of defense to prevent severe illness from Omicron is to get your child inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine.
Per the school district, parents or guardians are reminded to check their children’s health before they leave for school. Click here for a checklist of common symptoms.
The only new information parents appear to have received when it comes to addressing the current COVID-19 climate was that CCSD would be following the updated guidance from the CDC regarding quarantines. The government agency recently shortened the quarantine for asymptomatic people from 10 days to five days followed by a period of mask-wearing.
Parents also asked FOX5, amid the current surge, was a delay in a return to in person learning ever even discussed for this semester?
Here's what we found out from one union leader: "The trustees, the school board, and the superintendent have not indicated that that's even on the table," said Velladita.
Vellardita continued, "Listen: I think the overwhelming issue that's on the forefront right now, that school district and parents have to address, is the vaccine mandate. We know people have strong opinions about that, but you can't keep ducking it. You don't pass something three months ago and not complete it."
There's no vaccination requirement among CCSD students, however, the board voted 5-1 in September to approve a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for staff. It's still unclear when the mandate could be implemented, but FOX5 will continue looking into it.
Meanwhile, CCSD's health services department has a COVID-19 parent and guardian hotline you can call if your student is exposed to or tests positive for COVID-19. That number is 702-799-4322 and it's open until 4 p.m. each day.