How to prepare for the Omicron surge at Amador

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Zaynah Shah

Under the pressure of the new Omicron variant, PUSD has been taking precautions to enforce everyone’s safety as we return to school.

The Omicron variant is swiftly increasing the surge of COVID-19 cases around the world and in Pleasanton. But not to fear — there are a variety of procedures the Amador community can follow in order to prevent (and prepare) for the Omicron wave.

“Omicron is more infectious than previous variants even if you are vaccinated. The chance of infection is much higher with Omicron than with previous variants. All that said, it provides context that Omicron is the reason that we are revising and updating some of our guidelines,” said Hannah Mestel, a coordinator for Pandemic Services.

With the Omicron variant known for being highly transmissible, it is important for students and staff to wear masks that are fitted and close off any gaps between the nose or sides. A proper mask has good filtration as well, blocking virus particles from entering the mask.

“In the earlier parts of the pandemic, pretty much any type of face covering was going to do a reasonably good job at preventing someone who did not know they had covid from spreading it to other people by putting respiratory droplets into the air. But at this time because Omicron is so very infectious, it is a great time to upgrade your mask to provide the best protection for yourself against COVID-19,” said Mestel.

Masks that are the most effective against the Omicron variant are N-95 masks, while fabric masks are the least practical. (Pleasanton Unified School District)

Masks are constantly required indoors and highly recommended to be worn outdoors on the Amador campus. While the effectiveness of masks vary on a scale of N-95 masks to single layer cloth masks, Pleasanton Unified School District (PUSD) has sent out graphics for masks that provide the best protection against COVID-19.

“I am a parent of a high school student, and in terms of outdoor masking, my child better have her mask on when she’s outside right now, just as we get through this Omicron surge,” said Kelly French, coordinator for Pandemic Services.

The best way to be prepared for the Omicron, or any possible future variants of COVID-19, is to be fully vaccinated. Vaccination clinics can be found by visiting the My Turn website.

“The primary vaccination series is not as effective at the prevention for Omicron infection as it was against prior variants so that booster really increases vaccine effectiveness,” said French.

Even the booster shot does not fully guarantee a person to be completely safe from the virus, free COVID-19 testing is and has been an option throughout this school year. With PUSD already taking measures to limit the number of cases occurring in the spring semester, an optional but highly recommended COVID-19 at-home testing kit was passed out during winter break for both staff and students.

“Rapid antigen testing has been a very useful tool for us and we’re happy to be able to offer that. Because of all of you who picked up your at-home test kits, we distributed 12,500 test kits prior to the start of school,” said French.

These rapid antigen tests are quick 15 minute tests that can be performed easily at home as well at the current COVID-19 testing location in Pleasanton. If symptoms of the virus arise, the back parking lot of HART Middle School is open to students only on a drop-in schedule that changes under the staffing conditions.

At-home rapid antigen tests were offered to all PUSD students and staff, allowing them a chance to ensure that they kept others around them safe. (Leila Touati)

“During this Omicron surge, our procedures for ruling out COVID-19 have changed. If your student feels unwell (especially headache, sore or scratchy throat, nausea, and/or fever), keep them home until they are cleared to return to school. Two supervised negative rapid antigen tests are now required, taken at least 48 hours apart,” wrote David Haglund, PUSD Superintendent through Q Communication. “We expect that this protocol will change again in the future when we have less COVID circulating in our community.”

If testing for the virus results in a positive outcome for COVID-19, then a 10 day isolated quarantine is required as per the district policy. Isolation instructions along with the PUSD Positive Case Report can be found via Q Communication and in the case of a positive test, must be filled out immediately for necessary contact tracing.

“First and foremost, students who test positive on any kind of test must complete a 10 day isolation at home. And that 10 days is from the date that symptoms began-if symptoms were present- or from the date of the first positive test if the person is asymptomatic,” said Mestel.

Furthermore, parents are strongly discouraged from letting their kids out of their isolation zone, and more specifically, to send them to school.

“Please, I cannot emphasize this enough, do not send your student to school after receiving a positive test before completing the 10 day isolation, because the presence of a COVID positive person may require others to quarantine [and possibly contract the virus],” said Mestel.

As the PUSD continues to work hard to guarantee the safety of their district against COVID-19 and its many variants, it is the responsibility of the students and staff to follow the new protocols to ensure the safety of the school and keep the community open.

“There’s constant changes and the possibility of schedule changes and new updates that can come at any time, so the thing I want to remind our community staff and our families is that we just need to be prepared to pivot and modify our procedures at any time. Thank you for your patience and your partnership, we’re all in this together,” said Ed Diolazo, the assistant superintendent of student support services.