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Dr. Mark Ghaly: No Link So Far Between California School Openings, COVID-19 Cases

SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — California has not seen a link between the reopening of K-12 schools for in-person learning and increased coronavirus transmission, the state's top public health official said Tuesday.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's Health and Human Services secretary, told reporters that officials have been closely watching the return to classrooms in counties where it has been allowed. He said it can take time for trends to emerge, but so far, the results are encouraging.

"We have not seen a connection between increased transmission and school reopening or in-person learning," Ghaly said. "We're looking at the information to see if there is a connection and so far we have not found one."

California requires counties to report coronavirus levels and infection rates below certain thresholds before they can allow K-12 schools to broadly reopen for in-person instruction. On Tuesday, 32 of the state's 58 counties were deemed eligible to do so — up from 28 a week earlier.

Dennis Owens, whose children are teachers, told KPIX 5 that they are not ready to return to the classroom yet.

"They each personally feel that it would be very dangerous to be in the classroom," Owens said. "Both for themselves, the children, the parents of the children and the other people who would be around, because the schools really don't have great ventilation systems.

The state has seen a broad decline in the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks. While some areas are seeing an increase in infections, the state's overall case numbers have fallen since a surge over the summer following the initial reopening of various business sectors.

California reported a seven-day average of 3,005 new virus cases on Tuesday and a seven-day positivity rate of 2.6%, Ghaly said. The average number of new cases was down 9 percent from a week before, state data shows.

Schools have been allowed to reopen in many smaller California counties as well as more populated ones such as Orange and San Diego. In those counties still barred from resuming broad in-person instruction, some schools have obtained special waivers from the state to let elementary students return to classrooms, and many campuses throughout the state have resumed in-person special education classes and day care programs.

Los Angeles County, which has the largest population in the state, still can't broadly allow for in-person instruction but this week began taking applications for limited waivers to reopen transitional kindergarten through second grade classrooms.

On Tuesday, four California counties — Humboldt, Plumas, Siskiyou and Trinity — moved to the least restrictive tier in the state's color-coded framework for business reopenings. Four more counties also shifted to less restrictive tiers, while two — Tehama and Shasta — will now face more restrictions due to rising cases, Ghaly said.

The state also began using a new equity metric to assess how well counties are addressing virus transmission in their most disadvantaged communities. The metric requires counties to report comparable positivity rates for these communities as well as the county as a whole.

Humboldt's success in meeting the metric helped the county move to the least restrictive tier, state health officials said. While some counties didn't meet it, officials said none were blocked from moving tiers as a result.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is generally thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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