Marin to unveil schools virus tracker

A new online tool debuts this week to offer Marin families an easy-to-navigate, transparent map

A new online tool debuts this week to offer Marin families an easy-to-navigate, transparent map and dashboard showing if, when and where any coronavirus exposures occur at local schools — and the systematized responses that follow.

“We know that there’s a lot of concern and interest regarding reopening schools in the county,” Dr. Matt Willis, Marin public health officer, said last week.

“And if people don’t have access to information, it can fuel that (concern),” he added. “And so we want to make sure everyone has access to the best available information that’s updated in real time — especially in regards to the status of schools which are open for classroom-based learning.”

With close to half of Marin elementary and middle schools — and a few private high schools — either already open for some in-campus learning or planning to open next month, families and staff need to be confident that there is a system in place should any incidents occur, Willis said.

He said having a robust system established and available for public access should be “overall generally reassuring” in that families can trust there will be transparency and a careful and methodical approach.

“The combination of the progress we’ve made across-the-board in reducing the community prevalence (of COVID-19), combined with the safety protocols at the school level, is the recipe for a safer reopening,” Willis said. “Obviously the most important way to track that and verify that is through school-based cases and cohort closures when there is an infection.”

The dashboard is connected to a map of Marin, with grey dots for each school. As each school opens to at least 10% capacity, the dot will turn green. If someone hovers over one of the dots, a menu shows students’ ages, grade levels, status, total number of students, and total number of cohorts. Cohorts in this case refer to individual classes of up to 15 students.

A separate table on the dashboard gives other information regarding virus transmissions, the type of transmission, number of cases, number of cohorts closed. Also the table shows the total aggregate of student days in attendance at school across the entire county. That allows the county to determine a percentage level of cases or incidents.

The dashboard and map are scheduled to be posted by early this week at the Marin County Office of Education website at

Marin public health staff will address the community further in two public events this week. They are 4:30 p.m. Tuesday; to unveil a new “Marin Student and Family COVID-19 Safety Handbook;” and at 4:30 p.m. Thursday for a town hall on safety protocols.  Dr. Lisa Santora, deputy public health officer, will lead the events.

For more information on those events, see the MCOE website at 

Mary Jane Burke, Marin County superintendent of schools, said the new dashboard and map builds on the extensive effort in progress since June to create rigorous safety plans for every public, private and parochial school in the county.

The plans, known as school site-specific protection plans, are 30-point questionnaires filled out by each school’s staff, that spell out in detail how each school will address everything from crowded hallways, to classroom desk configurations, sanitizers, personal protective equipment and screenings at school entrances.

Marin schools are not allowed to open for on-campus learning until they have an approved SSSPP.

The plans, of which 125 are so far completed throughout the county, are accessible to the public at the Marin County Office of Education “Rethinking Schools” website at

“Everything in that plan has provided us our foundation,” Burke said last week. “For example, if you go to No. 7 (on the plan), it says you have to have an isolation area.”

“If a child has a symptom, they have to go to an isolation area,” she added. “It’s not enough for them to say ‘we have one’ — they have to specify exactly where it is.”

Another key part of each plan is the designation of a school liaison to be the first point of contact with Marin public health officials should any exposure be reported or discovered. Also, each school must designate a staff task force to keep close eyes on the school site-specific protection plan and update it as needed.

The liaisons are being given extensive training in Marin’s response system.

The response system has four scenarios that build in degree of actions to be taken and communications to be sent out, depending on the nature of the exposure and how many other people might have been affected.

Willis said the key is to understand how to navigate the process and to not overreact if an exposure occurs.

“We do have to step back and recognize that we are having a pandemic, and that we’re expecting cases in schools,” Willis said.

“We are not defining success as the complete absence of any cases, but rather striking that perfect balance to ensure that we are doing everything we can to maintain safety — and that we have protocols in place to protect the community if there are cases.”

For example, if a parent notices a child has symptoms at home and calls into report it to the school, and then keeps the child at home, it’s likely that would be a scenario that doesn’t require closing a cohort, Willis said.

Further, depending on the scenario, the school may or may not send a letter out to school families, he said. The important key is to determine “which scenario we’re in,” Willis said. “If we know which scenario we’re in, then we know what actions to take.”

So far, there has been only one student-to-student exposure in Marin that occurred in the spring at a pop-up-child care center that Marin officials had set up for children of essential workers. The two students were members of the same family who had been exposed to a mutual relative who was infected.

In that case, public health officials closed the children’s two cohorts at the child care center for 14 days. The rest of the center was not affected.

In the case of an incident involving a special education class operating at Manor Elementary School in Fairfax, officials were able to determine that no exposure occurred at the school.

The student was exposed to a relative at home, and the family reported it to school officials and the Marin County Office of Education, which oversees the special education class. As a precaution, the class cohort was closed, and everyone, staff and students, were tested — but all were negative.

“That’s how we know there was no transmission at the school,” Burke said. The county is now using that incident — and the one at the child-care — as test cases when training school liaisons, she said.

Like many things in the nation’s coronavirus pandemic experience, there has been no real precedent of how to tackle most facets of life  — including reopening schools, Burke said.

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