The Palo Alto Unified School District is expanding COVID-19 testing, planning to distribute take-home testing kits and discouraging symptomatic students from returning to school this week, according to a recent email from superintendent Don Austin.

Austin said he is concerned about the possible spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant when schools open again.

“This is different,” Austin said. “When we first came back [at the beginning of the school year], we had almost zero spread. We were excited about that. We did everything right. With this one, we can do everything right and still have big numbers.”

Santa Clara County coronavirus cases are currently at an all-time high, according to Santa Clara County Public Health.

With the increase in cases, students like Associated Student Body president and junior Johannah Seah are uneasy about returning to school.

“I would still go in-person, but I definitely would be a bit more concerned and feel a little bit less relaxed about it,” Seah said. “I am pretty concerned about people not wearing masks as often because I know that was an issue last semester, and especially since Omicron is more transmissible.”

If large numbers of students become infected with COVID-19, Austin said a return to distance learning might be a possibility.

“We would start by looking at the lowest number of closures that we would need to do,” Austin said. “It could be a classroom, it could be a school site. But if we were having trouble staffing the school, we’ll close.”


“This is different. When we first came back [at the beginning of the school year], we had almost zero spread. We were excited about that. We did everything right. With this one, we can do everything right and still have big numbers.”

— Don Austin, superintendent


Some students, including junior Alex Landolfi, believe returning to distance learning is a good idea.

“One or two weeks on zoom might be helpful,” Landolfi said. “Since everyone is back at this point, I think it would be really helpful to return to zoom school to just mitigate the spread of COVID until cases decrease.” 

Despite the possibility of a return to distance learning, some students, including junior Elizabeth Fetter, hope that the status quo can continue.

“It was so nice to be back in person this past semester and I really hope we are able to continue in person through the new year and into the spring,” Fetter said.

Student-athletes such as soccer player sophomore Richie Ogawa are also concerned about the possibility of games being canceled due to the spread of coronavirus.

“In the past, we have already had a few games canceled due to COVID exposures, and with the new variant being so prevalent, I expect a few more games to be canceled, which is extremely disappointing,” Ogawa said.

In order to make a smooth transition back to school from winter break, Austin said he believes students, parents and teachers should take some personal responsibility for mitigating the spread of the coronavirus in schools.

“If you’re sick, stay home,” Austin said. “This is not a time to come and try to get it through a day [if you are sick]. If you have the sniffles, and a sore throat, stay home.”