Health officials concerned about flu season on top of COVID-19 cases in schools


CENTRAL VALLEY, Calif. (KGPE) – Schools in the Central Valley have continued to report COVID-19 cases among students and staff in their classrooms and now health officials are facing another concern: flu season.

“We’re just not really sure what this is going to look like because the flu symptoms can be extremely similar to COVID symptoms,” said Staci Chastain, the Tulare County deputy director of public operations.

Chastain said they saw a slight decrease in the amount of cases being reported last week, but this is after significant increases in the weeks prior.

“We were seeing about a 23% increase each week,” Chastain said. “It’s really hard to tell with one week of a decrease if we’re going to be continuing in that path.

In Visalia Unified, last week, 121 students and 99 staff were in quarantine, said a spokesperson with the school district.

And Visalia Unified Interim Superintendent Doug Cardoza said among the challenges they’re facing now, a major one continues to be staffing.

“Whether it’s teachers, staff, nutritional services, whatever it is, it’s just a shortage of people able to work during this time,” Cardoza said.

However, they recently increased the pay for substitute teachers, and Cardoza said they’ve seen an increase in people applying.

In Fresno County, school districts also continue to report cases in their schools.

“We were hoping that there might be some decrease or flattening, but there have been about 150 to 200 cases reported of students each week for about the last three to four weeks,” said Dr. John Zweifler, a public health physician with the Fresno County Department of Public Health.

According to Clovis Unified’s dashboard, 121 cases among students and staff were reported in the week of Sept. 13-19. In the week of Sept. 20-26, 79 were reported.

Per Fresno Unified’s dashboard, the most recent update indicates that 1,307 cases have been reported among students and staff since the beginning of the school year.

Public health officials say much of what’s being reported in schools is a reflection of what’s happening in the community.

“The rest of the state of California we’ve seen some decreases in cases. But here in Fresno County, unfortunately, the numbers have stayed relatively high,” Zweifler said.

In Fresno County, 45% of 12 to 17-year-olds are vaccinated with at least dose, according to the last update on the health department’s vaccine dashboard.

In Tulare County, Chastain said 41% of eligible youth are vaccinated with at least one dose.

“The safest way to make sure that we don’t get COVID is for all of us to get vaccinated. We have a relatively high percentage of our county that’s not vaccinated,” Zweifler said.

Chastain said for parents who are looking for testing sites, these are some free community testing sites that can be found here.

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