Public and private elementary schools will soon be able to apply for in-person education waivers in Contra Costa County. (Photo by Andrew Reed/EdSource)

Starting Wednesday, public and private elementary schools in Contra Costa County can submit applications to allow in-person teaching on their campuses by obtaining a public health waiver from Contra Costa Health Services, the county announced Tuesday.

State guidelines issued in July by Gov. Gavin Newsom say such waivers may be granted when requested by a local superintendent, or by a charter school or private school equivalent administrator, in consultation with labor, parent and community organizations.

Local health officers must review local community epidemiological data, consider other public health intervention and consult with the state Department of Public Health when considering a waiver request, Contra Costa health officials said.

“We feel like we’ve reached a point where it makes sense to consider requests from elementary schools to reopen,” Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County health officer, said in a statement. “Our role will be to ensure that schools have a solid plan in place to protect their students and staff, and show us how they will work with the health department when there is a case to prevent further spread of the virus.”

Contra Costa Health Services did not begin accepting waiver applications immediately after Newsom issued the new guidelines in July, Farnitano said, because of the prevalence of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The situation has stabilized enough since then to allow the review of school-waiver applications, he said. For instance, COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations in Contra Costa County have leveled off in August after spiking in July.

Health departments in Santa Clara and Marin counties also accept such elementary school waiver requests. No middle school or high school is eligible for such waivers in any California county.

Contra Costa County school districts seeking waivers for elementary schools must detail how they would safely conduct in-person classes to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Applications will go to the Contra Costa County Office of Education for an initial review before being sent to county Health Services for further analysis.

County Health Services and the county’s Office of Education say schools must agree to a series of safety measures before any in-person instruction is approved.

These measures include showing a plan for testing of students and staff with COVID-19 symptoms, and periodic testing of asymptomatic staff members; identifying a person at each school to help Health Services with contact tracing efforts if there is a positive case at that school; showing how shared surfaces will be regularly cleaned and disinfected, and how use of shared items will be minimized; demonstrating proper use of face coverings; and showing how students will be kept in small, stable, groups(sometimes called “cohorts” or “pods”) with fixed membership that stay together for all activities, and separate from other “cohort” groups.

Review of these waiver requests will take approximately 10 days, with the state making the final decision to approve or deny.