Poor air quality smacks Shasta County schools; nursing homes allow visitors once again

Michele Chandler Redding Record SearchlightPublished 4:57 PM EDT Sep 16, 2020With the poor air quality hoverin

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With the poor air quality hovering over the region for much of the last two weeks, Shasta County Health Office Dr. Karen Ramstrom said that keeping children inside is the safest approach — but also the most challenging.

“The question always is should they stay at school or should they go home. It’s challenging, because we don’t know what the situation is in their home environment or if there’s even anybody there for supervision," Ramstrom said during a weekly media  briefing by public health officials.

"So, at this point, we recommend that kids stay at school and that the schools keep kids inside when air quality is poor,” she said.

The decision on whether schools in areas impacted by poor air quality should open or close is up to the individual schools, she said, although county health and air quality officials can provide “technical support.” 

Shasta Community Health Center CEO Dean Germano, who attended the briefing, said he had witnessed the impact of poor air quality on schools unfold in real time this week because his wife, Carol Germano, is the principal of Anderson New Technology High School.

Carol Germano routinely gets up at 5 a.m. to check readings of the amount of particulates in the air, he said. Should that level reach a certain threshold, everything is moved indoors, according to the school board’s policy, he said.

“If it reaches a real critical level, then it’s all distance learning,” he said. “It’s really a complicated process to get that right, but it’s always about the safety of the kids, of course.”

Last week, skilled nursing facilities in Shasta County were cleared to let their residents receive visitors, for the first time in several months, under new rules from the California Department of Health.

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“We put out some guidance for our skilled nursing facilities based on our local transmission” rates of COVID-19, said Ramstrom.

The facilities must adhere to state requirements on regular staff testing for COVID-19 and have sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment on hand, among other requirements. Residents in the facilities are now allowed one visitor at a time, Ramstrom said.

Similar patient visitation changes could be approved for area hospitals, which for the most part don’t allow visitors, with some exceptions, she said.

“The ‘orange tier’ that we’re in right now, we feel comfortable that’s an acceptable amount of disease transmission for allowing visitation at the skilled nursing facilities and think we would do something similar for the hospitals,” said Ramstrom.

She was referring to the state’s color-coded system to rate counties in terms of coronavirus transmission likelihood, ranging from most to least restrictive: purple, red, orange and yellow. Shasta County moved into the orange tier in August. 

As of Monday, Shasta County had 645 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and there have been 12 deaths attributed to the virus, said Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency spokeswoman Kerri Schuette at the mid-morning briefing.

Read more from around the North State:

  • Shasta County businesses to get up to $3 million in COVID aid. Here's how
  • Western wildfires: Bad air still choking the North State. When will smoke from the fires lift? 
  • Shasta County supervisor's Facebook post has Redding soccer park explaining

Michele Chandler covers city government and housing issues for the Redding Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. Follow her on Twitter at @MChandler_RS, call her at 530-225-8344 or email her at michele.chandler@redding.com. Please support our entire newsroom's commitment to public service journalism by subscribing today.

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