• Friday, December 4, 2020

Head of School Newsletter - December 4, 2020

The Fifth Layer—Frequent and Widespread Testing 麻雀虽小五张俱全 (subtitle: not effective without the first four layers) 

Okay, so this is a big and important development: thanks to the work of Adam Ross, Lesly Louie and the medical advisors on our Task Force (Doctors Ben Lui and Monique Schaulis), CAIS will begin testing all CAIS employees and students weekly following the Winter Break. You may have read about developments with non-invasive saliva testing or the concept of batch testing. Both have brought down the cost of testing to make it viable at a frequency that is actually impactful in controlling the spread of the virus (for those interested, read about the science here). We will be conducting an implementation trial run for the next two weeks with CAIS faculty and staff. Adam will talk a little more about the details below in Adam’s Corner (and reiterate some of the important points I make here), and he will be communicating in much greater detail before the break about each CAIS family’s responsibilities in order to implement this testing protocol for all children. I am grateful that the Board of Trustees is prioritizing this emergency addition to the operating budget and for the anonymous donor who is leading the charge for community support to meet this need (more details on that to come later this weekend).

Please keep in mind that we must view testing as just one layer of protection among the many layers that remain critically important for the safety and health of our community. As a native Midwesterner I use the term layer deliberately, and those of you who have lived in cold climates know what I mean. I used to go to Green Bay Packers games at Lambeau Field in December with my late, great dad, and in order to protect ourselves from the elements (ie, sub-freezing temperatures), we put on layer after layer of warm clothing. First it was long underwear, then a flannel shirt, then a wool sweater, then a down vest, then a winter coat…. No single layer was enough, but the successive layers made us increasingly warmer, until we could sit comfortably for three hours in the freezing cold, watching the Packers whoop the ‘Niners, for instance. The layers of protection against COVID work the same way—each successive layer provides more protection; face covering, hand hygiene, symptom screening, and distancing. Testing is the fifth layer, but we cannot become less vigilant about the other layers. That would be as foolish as sitting in Lambeau Field for three hours in December in only your long underwear.

It is truly meaningful that we are able to implement frequent and widespread testing at CAIS. But we must not let testing alone provide a false sense of security. In the past several months I have observed that there is more misunderstanding about the role of testing than any other public health measure—most people do not understand this. We need to keep our collective guard up and view testing as an “in addition to” layer, not an “in lieu of” solution. 

Anticipated New DPH Guidance 该做点儿心理准备 (subtitle: the more things change the more they remain the same)

For those of us living and breathing pandemic response, there are some discernible trends in public health guidance. One of them seems to be that the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health acts first, and other Bay Area Counties follow. Several days ago Santa Clara County DPH enacted an in-state travel advisory requiring 14 days of self quarantine for anyone traveling further than 150 miles. This is more restrictive than the Governor’s pre-Thanksgiving travel advisory which recommended self quarantine for those returning from out-of-state travel. So, for instance, our Santa Clara neighbors may go to Big Sur but not Tahoe. It seemed likely that this type of travel restriction may be coming from the SFDPH any day now.

This hunch was strengthened the other day when I was on a call with officials from the SFDPH Schools and Child Care Sites group. Those folks said they suspected that not only would the City and County of San Francisco issue an in-state travel advisory, but that they would issue restrictions, not recommendations. If this were to happen, someone on the call pointed out, “our families could go to Napa, but not Tahoe.”

Mayor Breed and Dr. Grant Colfax just concluded a press conference at which they issued a new stay-at-home order through January 4 (here is the news release) aligning with several Bay Area counties. Here at CAIS we will need to read the full public health document when it is posted, but it appears that this is the anticipated legally binding order that prohibits travel—even to Napa. Moreover, gatherings with individuals outside your own household—indoors or outdoors—will be prohibited beginning Sunday. It seems pretty clear that anyone with travel plans over the December and January break should be prepared to cancel them and stay home. 

Despite the fact that travel restrictions are changing, there are two things that I promise will not change: 1) CAIS’s vigilance and fidelity to all DPH guidance, 2) Your responsibility to make responsible decisions vis-a-vis the guidance and in the interest of every member of our community. Missing our family and friends is real. Fatigue is real. But the pandemic is also real, and we all need to hold on and make sacrifices now so that 2021 looks better for all of us.

Have a safe and healthy weekend. 


Staying Nimble in the Face of Pandemic Challenges

The staffing model to support smaller cohorts unsurprisingly involves all available CAIS educators to cover the additional classes this year. The “lean machine” includes some personnel resources to assist with coverage, but families should please be aware that circumstances can require various solutions to cases of teachers being out of school. For example, in some cases another CAIS teacher (already embedded with that grade) will step into the class as an in-person substitute, while on other occasions a faculty member may teach a class remotely to students who are in-person on campus. In those instances, a CAIS staff member who is not connected to another cohort (to preserve the integrity of our cohort divisions) will supervise the students in person while a teacher delivers the lesson via screen in the classroom. While we’ve designed our systems to anticipate many different scenarios, the one constant in all the change wrought by the pandemic is that it retains its capacity to throw curveballs! We thank you in advance for your patience, understanding, and support as we troubleshoot solutions.

Adam’s Corner
Updates from Pandemic Response Coordinator Adam Ross

Over the past four months, first with the Preschool reopening in August, and then with our Oak and 888 Campus reopenings in October, we have been pretty successful with using the Magnus Health symptom screening survey as a means to engage in symptom screening. Combined with our protocols for cohorting with staggered drop off and pick up, physical distancing, masking, and hand washing—as well as sending individuals home whenever they show symptoms and arranging for testing—these layers of risk management have served us well to conduct in-person classes safely.

So far, the science also backs up our approach. UCSF yesterday sponsored a webinar hosted by Bob Wachter (the UCSF Director of Medicine, whose Twitter feed is frequently an invaluable resource to learn about current COVID-19 issues in San Francisco). Yesterday’s presenters talked about the seeming contradiction of keeping schools open while COVID surges everywhere in the country, including here (and, as I type, Mayor London Breed and Dr. Grant Colfax have just concluded their press conference announcing the stay-at-home order to start Sunday night at 10:00 p.m.) So, should CAIS continue to stay open?

The answer overwhelmingly is yes. Medical professionals have done tracking of cases and outbreaks at schools, and as long as schools have reopened with proper risk management procedures in place, there have been no significant outbreaks in schools, and medical researchers continue to recommend opening K-5 schools fully and middle schools with additional layers of risk reduction (i.e, our hybrid model at the 888 Campus). Instead, the consensus is that outbreaks have taken place in other areas, mostly lax contact between individuals, travelers bringing the virus to new communities (or bringing it back with them), or unsafe congregating in restaurants, stores, and—our biggest worry—in private gatherings at home. So, it’s not surprising that the new SF Stay-at-Home order is focusing on minimizing the potential of outbreaks in these public and home areas, while still allowing schools that have opened this fall to remain open.

All the same, we are very aware that this spike in cases does have the potential to impact our operations. We cannot wait for vaccines to be ready (and currently K-12 teachers are being placed in “Phase 2” of vaccine distribution, mostly likely sometime in early 2021). To this end, as Jeff mentions above we are adding another layer to our safety protocols: We will be testing all of our on-campus faculty and staff via a weekly PCR saliva-testing pool surveillance protocol beginning next week. This service is provided by a company called Mirimus, and you will all be hearing much more about them from me soon—I’ve even been joking that “Mirimus and Magnus” must have been named after Romulus and Remus, the twins who legend holds founded Rome. 

Briefly, this Mirimus procedure will allow faculty and staff quickly to collect saliva samples at home. We then will “pool” together samples in groups of 24, which will then be shipped next day air to the Mirimus lab for testing. Each sample is scanned with a barcode, and testing is done in pools. If all the samples in a pool test negative, no further action is taken. If there is a positive result in the pool, the lab will retest smaller batches of samples until the individual positive sample can be identified. We expect to receive results within 24 hours of shipping them to the lab, which is much faster than individual nasal PCR testing, which often takes several days for a result.

We also plan to launch saliva testing for everyone at CAIS on campus—faculty, staff, and students—after we resume classes in January 2021 following Winter Break. We will share much more information soon, but just to get a sense how simple the sample collection process is, here is a brief video showing a young child collecting his own sample (with some coaching from his mom). Finally, a big THANK YOU to the CAIS Board of Trustees, which has prioritized pool testing with Mirimus as an emergency expenditure for this school year’s budget, which will be met in part by an anonymous donor and support through the Uplift Fund. 

We are entering what we all hope is our final challenge through this winter “second wave.” I implore all of you to continue to be vigilant with your own safety protocols at home, and more importantly, as you plan for the coming holidays. Stay safe and healthy, everyone!

Now for Some Non-COVID News!

Siblings Teddy H. (8th Grade Blue) and Isabelle H. (6th Grade Purple) put together two cooking videos for Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). Teddy shares, “I was awarded a grant from FARE (a national nonprofit organization) to create fun cooking videos to help promote food allergy awareness in our community. Due to the worldwide pandemic, we had to prepare and film the production entirely within our household. We hope you enjoy these lighthearted instructional videos!”

It’s fantastic to see our students living the CAIS Mission to “contribute to a better world” in such a delicious way!

Cooking with FARE Episode 1: Chocolate Celebration Cupcakes

Cooking with FARE Episode 2: Roasted Kale Chips

“What It Means to Be Black in White Spaces”—DEI Round Table, Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Already 60+ families have signed up to participate in next Tuesday’s screening and community conversation. Be sure to RSVP by this Sunday, December 6 to take part in this important CAIS event! The Community DEI Roundtable event will feature a screening of renowned author and speaker Julie Lythcott-Haims talking about “What It Means to Be Black in White Spaces” followed by a discussion. In this powerful talk on identity and community, Julie shares her experience as a Black and biracial woman growing up in white spaces. Her story is deeply personal, but its message is universal: people from marginalized communities will recognize echoes of their own experiences, and allies will learn how they can better show up, listen, and advocate for others. You can choose to either tune into the shared viewing of the webinar on December 8 from 5:30-6:30 pm or watch the recording beforehand and join the discussion over Zoom from 6:30-7:15 pm. 





  • Chinese American International School


    Early Childhood Division (Preschool) | Alice A. Carnes Center
    42/52 Waller Street 

    Early Childhood Division (K-1)
    and Lower School (2-5)
    150 Oak Street 

    Middle School (6-8)
    888 Turk Street 

    San Francisco, CA 94102