With the summer coming to an end, kids are starting to return to classrooms. While some COVID-19 pandemic guidelines are still in effect, many Sacramento-area schools don’t currently have any measures that address monkeypox.
Though both the state of California and Sacramento County announced a state of emergency in response to the ongoing monkeypox outbreak in early August, neither has yet issued guidelines for how schools should address potential spread of the virus.
That’s in part because the state department of public health currently characterizes the risk of contracting the virus in schools as “minimal”. It noted in an email to CapRadio that it continues to see “very low transmission of the virus in the general population, including children.”
“We continue to work on guidance and policy for various settings and sectors, including schools,” the department said. “We will share an update as soon as more is available.”
As of Aug. 23, California has recorded six cases of the virus in people younger than 18.
The county’s public health department is responsible for tracking and monitoring monkeypox cases in Sacramento County. School districts in Sacramento County say they are in close contact with county officials and will work to align themselves with guidance as it is issued.
“We can share it [case data] with Sacramento County Public Health like we do with all communicable disease … such as chickenpox,” said Alexander Goldberg, a spokesperson with the Sacramento City Unified School District. “One of the silver linings of our mitigation efforts for COVID-19 is that we have contact tracing in place should we need it if there is an infection.”
County spokesperson Samantha Mott said public health officials met with district health coordinators on Aug. 24 to discuss any questions they may have had about monkeypox and updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines about COVID-19.
Districts are asking parents and students to be aware of monkeypox symptoms and to notify their schools if they suspect they’ve contracted the virus.
Monkeypox, similar to smallpox, is often marked by a fever and swollen lymph nodes and accompanied by a rash that can take the appearance of lesions, pimples, bumps or warts. The rash usually appears first on the face, genitals, hands or feet.
The virus spreads primarily through direct and prolonged contact with an infected person’s rash or a surface an infected person has touched. It can also spread through airborne transmission.
Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief officer of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, said the risk of contracting monkeypox in schools is “low, but it’s not zero.”
“There’s a few situations that you can think of where that [prolonged skin-to-skin contact] might normally occur in school, such as wrestling or other close-contact sports,” he said.
But he underscored that the contact must be with an infected person’s active skin lesions, and that even before monkeypox, many school districts have already implemented protocols for responding to cases where a student might have an unexplained rash or high fever.
As such, Goldberg said SCUSD’s current efforts around mitigating monkeypox’s potential appearance in schools are focused on education, rather than specific protections.
SCUSD sent out a message to parents on Aug. 10, a day after the county declared a state of emergency in response to monkeypox, with more information about the virus.
Raj Rai, a spokesperson for San Juan Unified, echoed Goldberg. She said the district would work with county health officials to figure out next steps if a confirmed case of monkeypox is connected to a student or staff member. Elk Grove Unified said it would be doing the same.
“We continue to encourage our families to keep their children at home if they have any symptoms and to do a daily symptom check before each school day,” Rai said via email.
Because of the current low transmission among children in the state, Goldberg says the district doesn’t plan to set up a monkeypox dashboard analogous to its COVID-19 ones, which display case numbers and demographics.
“I would doubt there will be a need for dashboards unless something changes with this outbreak or we receive new guidance recommendations from CDC, CDPH, or SCPH on how to respond,” he said.
Rai also said San Juan Unified would work with the Sacramento County Department of Health, if needed, to figure out if public tracking of cases would “be of benefit for the community” or if it would become a confidentiality issue, if cases remain low.
Blumberg suggested parents continue to pay attention to news around the virus.
“Early on with this current outbreak, we did expect there to be limited transmission and for the outbreak to be over within three to five months,” he said. “That hasn’t been the case. We haven’t learned everything about it yet.”
He did add that the majority of child cases have been epidemiologically linked to other known cases, so it “hasn’t been a mystery” when children have been infected.
This CapRadio guide has more information about the virus and where treatment may be available locally if you suspect you may have monkeypox.
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