(CNN) — The final straw for Nathan, the father of a young boy at a small Catholic school in California, was the seating chart showing how a teacher infected at least 12 of the 24 students in her class with the coronavirus.
“We’ve never seen that seating plan before,” Nathan told CNN. “That makes it real.”
CNN is not using Nathan’s real name or identifying the parents or the school to protect the privacy of the children and teachers involved.
In May, when it became known that the teacher and some of her students had COVID-19, parents say they received minimal information about what happened.
But the Marin County Health Department did a careful contact tracing investigation that revealed in astonishing detail how, despite considerable precautions, the teacher passed the virus on to her students, who later infected other students and their families.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighted the research last week in its weekly report on death and disease, the MMWR. It included a seating chart showing that eight of the 10 students in the first two rows became infected, evidently when the unvaccinated teacher removed her mask to read aloud to them. He did not identify the school or staff.
Nathan says his young son was in the classroom, among the students in the back of the room, so he didn’t get infected.
But he is confused that the teacher was allowed to remain unvaccinated and came to school with symptoms that she thought were allergies but that appear to have been related to covid, and that he felt free to remove the mask in class, though either momentarily, despite school regulations.
‘Doubts about trust’
“It really helps you get sober in the face of the reality of the pandemic,” Nathan told CNN. “I didn’t think it would hit that close.”
He said his family had taken many precautions to stay safe during the pandemic.
“There is, like, anger towards the teacher. It’s more disappointment,” Nathan told CNN. “She is a lovely young woman, so I don’t think she did it maliciously. But there are doubts around confidence.”
The school does not require vaccination, although California put teachers as a priority group by rolling out coronavirus vaccines earlier in the year. California will require all teachers and other school personnel to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing beginning in mid-October.
“As adults, I feel we have a responsibility to protect these children during the pandemic,” Nathan said, noting that children under the age of 12 are not eligible for vaccination.
“If we open our schools and have our children in the classroom, it is the responsibility of all adults to do everything possible to keep them safe.”
The school has strict coronavirus protocols posted on its website. It says that parents must complete a form every day that certifies that their children do not have any symptoms of covid-19 and have not been exposed to the coronavirus. Teachers and staff should do the same.
“As parents, we were told that if our son showed any symptoms, we should stay home,” Nathan said. “Why didn’t a teacher take the same action?”
The timeline and genetic fingerprints of the viruses that were tested leave little doubt as to who infected whom.
“The teacher reported that she became symptomatic on May 19, but continued to work for 2 days before receiving a test on May 21,” the Marin County team reported in last week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Students in her class began experiencing symptoms on May 22.
“At times during this time, the teacher would read aloud without a mask to the class despite school requirements to wear a mask indoors,” the team added. “As of May 23, additional cases of covid-19 were reported among other school-related staff, students, parents, and siblings.”
The school did not respond to requests for comment from CNN. The Archdiocese of San Francisco, which operates the school, issued a brief statement to CNN calling it an “isolated incident” that was handled internally.
“The Archdiocese of San Francisco Department of Catholic Schools follows CDC guidance, as well as state and local protocols to ensure the safety of our school communities,” it said.
“We are grateful for the many sacrifices made by parents, teachers, staff and more than 23,000 students who allowed our schools to reopen last year and for their continued efforts to deal with an unprecedented and evolving health crisis.”
But it is far from being an isolated incident. What made the Marin County case exceptional was the degree to which public health officials were able to document what happened. But schools across the country are struggling to quarantine students after exposure, fighting parents demanding mask orders or demanding that no one ask their children to wear masks, and debating whether to vaccinate them. teachers and staff.
An analysis by CNN shows that at least 21,869 students and 4,481 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in Florida’s 15 largest school districts since school started. Another 45,024 students and staff members have been quarantined or placed under “stay at home” directives due to possible exposure to COVID-19.
In Texas, 20,256 students and 7,488 employees tested positive for COVID-19 in districts that returned to school in August. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has banned masks in schools and virtual classroom options, although some districts are challenging the mask ban and demanding them in their schools.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that the state would require masks in K-12 schools and child care settings beginning Sept. 7. In Florida, school districts that include Alachua and Broward County public schools have followed through with mask-wearing orders, despite threats of financial penalties from the state, whose governor, Ron DeSantis, has limited mask-wearing orders. .
Perhaps most of all, schools are struggling to communicate with scared, confused, and often angry parents.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, Ann is keeping her 8-year-old son at home from the small private religious school she attends for fear of infection.
“We have had 18 cases in a week,” he said. “It would be easier to have it at school, but it feels safer to have it at home.”
Ann, who also wishes to protect her identity for the sake of her son, sent CNN a photo of the school pastor lecturing in a room full of children wearing masks while he was not wearing one.
Ann and Nathan say their schools refuse to tell parents if teachers and staff are vaccinated, and have provided few details about how students or staff may have been infected, although they do report positive cases of coronavirus to parents.
‘You feel like you’re sending your son to the wolf’s mouth’
Both Ann and Nathan feel that their schools are not doing enough to protect their children.
“They’re putting kindergarten through third grade students in the lunchroom at the same time, that’s 150 kids without masks for 30 minutes,” Ann said.
The North Carolina school is adapting to remote learning with cameras in the classroom, but Ann said she’s looking for other options.
“The last week and a half has been insomnia and exhausting. You feel like you’re sending your son to hell,” he said.
Mallory Simon and Erica Henry contributed to this story.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism