A school custodian keeping a hallway clean in anticipation of students returning for in-person classes. (Photo via Phil Roeder/Flickr)

Younger children can head back to school and local church congregations can move back indoors, county health officials told the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, saying COVID-19 numbers are again down this week.

“We are happy to report that, according to the state data, school districts may choose to reopen grades K through 6, starting (Wednesday) and we’ve reached five days where we were below the threshold where states are allowed to resume K through 6 in-person education, that’s below 25 cases per 100,000 per day,” said health officer, Dr. Chris Farnitano.

“The higher grades, 7 through 12, will be allowed to open when our county is below the state’s red tier for at least five days.”

Farnitano said state guidelines don’t require teachers and other school staff to be vaccinated to go back to in-person learning. He said at least 14 schools from nine districts have already submitted re-opening plans to the county.

Church congregations no larger than 25 people can also return indoors with safety precautions, for the first time in 2021. The Supreme Court ruled last week against California in two lawsuits challenging the legality of the state’s restrictions on indoor worship. The state can, however, continue banning meals associated with services, and singing and chanting, due to increased risk of virus spread.

“But it’s important to point out that, just because something is allowed by the state, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not without risk,” Farnitano said. “Indoor religious gatherings are still considered much higher risk than outdoor religious service or virtual services.”

County health director Dr. Anna Roth told the board COVID-19 numbers are falling “across the board.” She said more county residents with vaccine appointments outnumbered doses available in the county, which recently moved from only vaccinating people 75 and older into the next tier, for those 65 to 74.

“Like every other state in our nation, California continues to struggle with vaccine scarcity,” Roth said. “As well as how to best administer the vaccine in an equitable and efficient manner.”

Health department Chief Equity Officer Gilbert Salinas said the county is trying to reach communities that so far have been underrepresented by vaccine numbers, with increased mobile clinics. “That’s how we dig into our communities that are most impacted,” he said.

More information on vaccines can be found at www.CCHealth.org, where county residents can also register for appointments. Residents can also call the vaccination help center at 833-829-2626 and either wait to talk to a staff member or leave a message for a return call.