SLO County added to the list earlier this week

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that public and private schools in California counties on the state’s “watchlist” will have to begin the school year with distance learning.

“Schools must provide meaningful instruction during this pandemic whether they’re physically open or not,” Newsom said. “We all prefer in-classroom instruction for all the obvious reasons, but only if it can be done safely.”

San Luis Obispo County is one of 32 counties currently on the state’s county monitoring list. There are 58 counties in the state. SLO was added to the list on Monday and has remained on it the entire week due to exceeding the state’s criteria for COVID-19 case rates.

SLO County has seen its numbers nearly double since July 1, growing to 1,213 as of Friday after reporting 55 new coronavirus cases. The County has 470 active cases.


A county has to be off the state’s COVID-19 watchlist for 14 consecutive days before its schools can shift to in-person learning.

Aug. 20 is the first day of school for most of the districts in the North County. Some school districts in the county had already planned to open the school year with distance learning.

“The one thing we have the power to do to get our kids back into school? Wear a mask, physically distance, wash your hands,” Newsom said.

For schools that can reopen, students from third through 12th grade and all staff have to wear masks in school. For younger students, face masks or shields are strongly encouraged. Those who refuse could be sent home for distance-only learning. 

Staff at those schools must keep 6 feet between themselves and others. Students are encouraged to do the same.

Campuses that stay open will start their school day with “symptom checks,” including temperature checks. Staff will be tested monthly for coronavirus.

Any class that sees one case of COVID-19 will be sent home. An entire school will be sent home if “multiple cohorts” or more than 5 percent of the students test positive. An entire district will be sent home if 25 percent of their campuses are closed within a 14-day period.

Even for schools that only do online, distance learning, Newsom said the state will be making sure there are “rigorous” standards.

“If we’re going to have distance learning, we will make sure that it’s real, that we address the divide and it is quality,” the governor said. “Learning is non-negotiable.”

Newsom said that districts that have to start the school year with distance learning must provide the following:

  • Devices so that all students can participate in distance learning.
  • Daily live interaction.
  • Instruction that is “challenging and equivalent to in-person instruction.” 
  • Support special education students and English learners.

The governor’s announcement comes as the state saw another high number of new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, at 9,986. That’s up from 8,241 the day before and represents the third-highest one-day total since the pandemic began. Likewise, the new count of 130 deaths. That is also the third-highest one-day total in that category since the pandemic started.