BRAWLEY — The Brawley Elementary School Board asked for the Imperial County Public Health Department to attend a board meeting to give information on COVID-19 and what the possibility of a school opening waiver would entail Tuesday, October 27, at its usual meeting.

ICPHD Deputy Director Janette Angulo spoke via Zoom regarding general information about the current COVID-19 activity in the Imperial Valley. There are currently about 13,000 cases of active COVID-19, including in- and out-of-county as well as out of country cases in the Valley, according to Angulo. The age group with the highest affected numbers are those in the 20 to 39 group.

Currently Imperial County is in the purple tier, according to the new color system. Angulo said there has been an 18.9 percent increase in the case rate within the past week, though she attributes this to less testing.

If schools were to reopen, they would have to follow the 16-person small cohort limit, considering teachers, paraeducators, and students in the classrooms. Cohorts are recommended for specialized, targeted support services where in-person instruction is necessary, such as students with disabilities, English learners, at-risk, or high-needs. This does not need the Health Department’s approval.

Districts must create and submit a plan that proves they are following California’s guidance for schools. Superintendents must consult with parent and labor organizations at each school site the application is being submitted for. They must also be prepared to return to distance learning if required to do so.

Waivers are only available for schools grades TK to 6th grade.

So far, only Sacred Heart School has applied for a waiver and been approved by the Health Department. Other schools that are open did not do so through the department, according to Angulo.

Board Trustee Kathy Prior questioned if there are any children with COVID in the Imperial Valley. Angulo answered yes. According to the ICPHD data as of Tuesday evening, there are 742 children ages zero to nine, and 1,308 children ages 10 to 19 with COVID in the Imperial Valley.

Angulo said the spike is because there has been increased activity in the community, such as youth sports and family gatherings. Angulo pointed out the numbers could increase with schools wanting to open.

“We have seen in other states is when schools come back into session, two weeks, three weeks later, the cases start to increase at a very high rate,” said Angulo. “So, in Imperial County we do anticipate as we bring more and more groups together for cases to increase.”

The request for the Imperial County Health Department to be present at the BESD board meeting comes from two weeks ago when Dr. George Fareed spoke with the BESD board about the possibility of using a cocktail of hydroxychloroquine and zinc as a prophylaxis for COVID-19 treatment and prevention. According to Fareed, the cocktail can be used.

The Imperial County Medical Society (ICMS) has received inquiries from community members about the treatment. According to ICMS Executive Director Thomas Henderson, the society felt it was not qualified to accurately answer the questions and turned to the California Medical Association (CMA) for guidance.

According to the CMA President Peter N. Bretan, “California physicians continue to receive questions about whether hydroxychloroquine should be used for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19. Multiple federal entities recommend against use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 treatment. The evidence supporting hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19 is weak and hydroxychloroquine can have serious side effects. CDC guidelines show the best way to prevent COVID-19 transmission is to maintain physical distance of at least six feet, wear a face covering, and regularly wash your hands.”

BESD has not encouraged or condoned Fareed’s suggestions on using hydroxychloroquine as a preventative to jump start school and, as of this time, continues long distance learning.

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