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Local school districts see COVID-19 exposures a week into in-person classes

SALINAS, Calif. (KION) In Monterey County, 18 out of the 24 school districts there have been re-opened for in-person learning. Each school district reports directly to the county health department about the COVID-19 cases and exposures at their schools.

KION, and the public, is not being given the exact numbers of COVID-19 cases in each district, and which schools. But KION has heard from some parents themselves about exposures in their classes.

"My concern is sending the kids back home, especially with the very first day us being notified that there was already an exposure and a closure," said Jasmine Phillips, a parent at Kamman Elementary School in Salinas.

Phillips has two kids going to Kammann Elementary. She says the school district, which had their first day of school on Wednesday, messaged them saying a staff member or child in a class had tested positive with COVID-19.

"I was talking to a parent at the park and they said it was their son's classroom," said Phillips. "He said, yeah, my son is home for the next two weeks back to distance learning."

The Salinas City Elementary School District says, generally, they rely on self-reporting to account for positive COVID-19 cases. The next step is to contact trace to limit the spread.

Currently, if there is a positive case in a classroom, the procedure is to shut down that class for a couple weeks and have students work from home. But the school district is trying to change that rule to align with state guidelines, so that exposed students who test negative for the virus can remain on campus.

The district only notifies parents who are part of the impacted classroom, as well as staff at the school. They also notify county health officials.

"It's a daily thing. So as soon as we get a report, we report it to the county," said Katie Balesteri, an assistant superintendent at the Salinas City Elementary School District.

Monterey County, however, is not publishing the numbers from each district, just a broad number from the Education and Child Care Setting Industry Sector. On Friday, there were eight new cases in that job group out of 104 total new cases in the county.

"I believe countywide, there has been exposure at most of the schools. It's inevitable. We're living in the time of COVID," said Balesteri.

There have been reports of more positive cases on the Monterey Peninsula and the Salinas Valley. Parents are simply hoping for the best.

"They can't really plan out who's going to test positive, so what do you do except roll with the punches?" said Phillips. "And then you have hire-ups to report to and parents that you're trying to satisfy, and you just don't have all the answers for them. So it's frustrating as a parent because I do want to know more."

The Monterey County Health Department says if there is a full-blown outbreak at a district, that is the point where they will inform the public.

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Josh Kristianto

Josh Kristianto is a weekend anchor and multi-media journalist at KION News Channel 5/46.

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