By Dr. Henning Ansorg, M.D., FACP, Health Officer, County of Santa Barbara Public Health Department

State and local health orders regarding what can and cannot happen at local schools can be confusing to say the least.  As we see children on school campuses playing sports or in childcare, we wonder why the schools are also not open for daily onsite instruction.

People in counties with high virus transmission rates are wondering about why California is not allowing schools to reopen, while at the same time childcare programs and day camp programs are allowed to remain open in the same counties.

There are a number of factors that are being considered when decisions are being made regarding our children and how to keep them safe and protected from COVID-19 while providing them with a quality education. 

  • COVID-19 is a novel or new virus.  We are learning new things about this virus on a continuous basis. We now understand children can carry the virus and transmit it to others, although their severity of illness is generally lower than adults. 
  • Rarely, however children become very ill and even die. Children 10 and younger appear to have less severe illness.
  • Schools provide the most intensive environments for children including the length of time they are together, proximity to and interaction with other children and adults, and the number of people together in one location.
  • Person to person contact appears the most common form of transmission.
  • Parents or family members can opt to provide daily care for their children.  Many parents have jobs and responsibilities that prevent them from providing full-time care for their children.
  • There are children of essential workforce folks who will still be reporting to work even though schools will be closed to in person classroom teaching.  Alternatives that more closely resemble family environments are needed. 
  • Child care programs are licensed, and both child care and day camp programs are less intensive than schools, children are served in smaller groups, there are limits to the number of persons in day camps and child care to be able to maintain physical distancing, and there are specific guidelines to minimize transmission. Each of these factors limit exposures.

Facilities of all kinds, including school campuses, can be used to provide childcare or day camp programs.  Each of the facilities must meet strict guidelines, including those related to hygiene, cleaning, and disinfecting.  Adults who supervise children in childcare and day camp programs also need to meet guidelines related to face coverings, physical distance, and screening among other areas. 

As we enter our seventh month of the pandemic, California is balancing many needs and risks, based on developing science, while prioritizing our children.  While it is a significant challenge to all stakeholders, we will get through this!  

Dr. Henning Ansorg, M.D., FACP is  a graduate of Justus-Liebig-University Medical School Giessen, Germany. He completed Residency training in Munich, Germany and Tucson, AZ and is board certified in Family Practice (Germany) and Internal Medicine (USA). Dr. Ansorg is a Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and is on the Medical Staff at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara. He has many years of experience in different clinical settings including 10 years of Private Practice and Urgent Care in Munich, Germany as well as 11 years of Internal Medicine/Geriatrics in Arizona as well as 4 years at the Santa Barbara County Health Care Center. Dr. Ansorg has served as Public Health Officer for Santa Barbara County since April 2019.