Delta variant presence within district sparks concerns

The Delta variant is a highly infectious strain of COVID-19 that has continued to new levels of uncertainty among Palo Alto Unified School district (PAUSD) students. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), rising cases have largely been attributed to the variant, with over 100,000 Americans hospitalized in August. This strain is over two times more contagious than previous variants and is the predominant variant of the virus in the United States. Consequently, the PAUSD administration has closely followed Santa Clara County guidelines to prevent a surge of cases in the district. On July 27, 2021, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a recommendation for unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals in high-risk areas to wear masks in public and indoors due to the Delta variant.


California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidelines for the COVID-19 response in public schools can be found on the PAUSD website’s “Responding to COVID-19” module. When a student tests positive for COVID-19, those in close contact with them will be notified and given a required Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test. They are expected to return paperwork and swabs to the office the next school day. A close contact is defined as someone who spent 15 minutes or more within six feet of someone who tested positive. Since calculating close contacts in a classroom can be difficult, the school usually sends a notice everyone who shares a class with the student who tested positive. Students who were not in close contact with the positive carrier will receive an email stating that they were not exposed.

Assistant Principal Leonel Argumedo, Gunn’s COVID-19 response expert, clarified the protocol for students who receive a positive test result. “Whether you are vaccinated or unvaccinated, you have to quarantine for ten days,” Argumedo said.

Those who initially test positive but later test negative within the ten-day quarantine window must follow the same instructions. PCR test results can generally be expected within 48 hours, though some students and staff have reported waiting longer than that. Junior Maanasa Viswanath received a close contact notification from the school and had to wait four days for her results. “I dropped my kit off on Wednesday morning, and I got my results back Saturday night,” Viswanath said.

Quarantine Process

Close contacts must take a test five days post-exposure and ten days post-exposure. However, the quarantine process for close contacts varies depending on the student’s vaccination status, symptoms and test results.

If close contacts are vaccinated and asymptomatic, they will not be required to quarantine. If the student is unvaccinated, depending on whether both parties were wearing masks or not, they may continue in-person instruction after immediately taking a PCR test.

If neither the close contacts nor the positive case were masked at the time of exposure, all parties must quarantine for ten days. However, if the close contact tests negative five days post-exposure, they may return to school on the eighth day. “When there is a confirmed positive case, that is when we are required to send out these letters to any close contacts and to the community,” Argumedo said. “Letters are sent to every single parent—close contacts and non-close contacts.” Currently, parents receive a weekly email from the administration about whether campus is COVID-free or not.

Symptoms and Test Results

Students who show symptoms must take a PCR test immediately and stay at home until they receive test results, after which they are required to immediately share the response with the school. Test kits are available on campus. If they test negative, they may return to school 24 hours after receiving the negative result, with reduced symptoms and a doctor’s note explaining that those symptoms are unrelated to COVID-19. If they test positive, the cycle begins again, with the mandatory ten-day quarantine and close contact notifications.


The process for close contacts has raised worries about attending in-person classes. Viswanath, who is fully vaccinated, was not required to quarantine in accordance with the protocol of the Responding to COVID-19 module. Regardless, she still took cautions in the classroom. “I know I sat at the back of the room instead because I was a little bit scared for a week,” Viswanath said.

Senior Clarine Kim stayed at home due to food poisoning but was required to continue quarantining until she received a negative test result due to symptoms similar to COVID-19. While this was in accordance with county guidelines, Kim points out a few flaws in the process.

Kim’s concerns include that the admin have no reliable way of ascertaining whether students that miss school are COVID-free or just asymptomatic. Conversely, if a student at school is asymptomatic, the administration has no method of enforcing the mandated quarantine unless they tested positive or were notified as a close contact per the district guidelines. Essentially, asymptomatic students who wish to be on campus will always be on campus. “There’s no easy way to regulate who comes to the school and who stays at home, and it’s especially more frustrating when students are making the conscious decision to come to school and to expose others to being sick,” Kim said.

Similarly, it is difficult to determine whether students who feel sick are symptomatic carriers or have another ailment. When students show possible COVID-19 symptoms, the district nurse determines whether the student is sick with COVID-19 or not. “The district nurse makes the determination after the school nurse assesses the
student,” Argumedo said.

Making Up Missed Assignments

According to Principal Wendy Stratton, once students return from quarantine, there is no distinct arrangement
for making up missed assignments. “You’re just going to have to interact with your teacher just like a normal sick
day,” Stratton said. “Teachers are pretty flexible about that because they understand the conditions.”

Missing ten days of school, however, is quite different from a normal sick day. Kim describes the lack of accommodations made for students in enforced quarantine. “It’s just frustrating because you’re at home, and there’s nothing for you to do,” Kim said. “There are no Zoom calls. It’s not like online schooling. You’re just at home doing nothing, and class passes by really fast. You have to keep up.”


There may be no perfect plan that covers all corners as to what schools should do in response to the virus. However, as circumstances change and more research is published on the Delta variant and COVID-19, Gunn will continue to adapt its protocol. The Gunn administration plans to continuously update the close contact notification process as the situation progresses. COVID-19 testing sites are available on campus once a week for students and staff. “We have on-site weekly testing happening on Fridays in B-P01 [the trailer next to the main office],” Argumedo said. “Students and staff are welcome to get tested.”