To “help normalize mask wearing” in the community, the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) in California has launched a contest for students that will award the winners thousands of dollars in technology grants for their schools.
There are three categories in the contest: mask art, written essay, and social video. Entrants will be split into age groups including elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.
“The three entries with the highest scores in each entry category for each school level will be named winners,” according to the agency’s website.
A total of 27 technology grants will be awarded: $7,000 for nine first-place winners, $6,000 for nine second-place winners, and $5,000 for nine third-place winners. The grants can be used to buy WiFi hotspots or other technology equipment for the winners’ schools.
The winning mask design in each of the county’s five districts will also be produced for students in those schools to wear.
For the projects, students are encouraged either to come up with a mask design that they think everyone will want to wear, explain why wearing a mask is important in a 300 to 400 word essay, or create an original video that shows the benefits of wearing a mask in 60 seconds or less.
Students are being asked to have fun, get creative, and do their best to make a project “that entertains and educates how awesome wearing a mask can be.”
The entries will be judged based on originality, creativity, technical skill, artistic value, and how well they encourage people to wear a mask.
The students can find a mask template and a helpful downloadable toolkit, including the official entry form, on the website. The deadline for entry is Nov. 19 at 11:59 p.m, and winners will be posted by Dec. 4 at 11:59 p.m.
Orange County Hires After-Hour Nurses
At a press conference on Oct. 22, the OCHCA also announced the agency will be hiring a team of nurses to be on-call outside of regular business hours for COVID-19-related issues at local schools, which are gradually reopening for on-site instruction.
The nurses will assist school representatives “with isolation, quarantine protocols, disinfection instructions, and other critical guidance,” said Dr. Margaret Bredehoft, deputy agency director of Public Health Services at OCHCA.
They will be available by phone or other contact methods on weekdays from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. and on weekends from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The nurses will also be consulting with physicians to conduct detailed investigations into any COVID-19 cases in students, teachers, and staff, and will communicate with school nurses as needed.
Dr. Matthew Zahn, OCHCA’s medical director for communicable disease control, said the county has realized that the faster officials can respond to COVID-19 cases at schools, the less disruption will occur for the students and the schools.
“When there is a case in a school, on an individual site, we rely on the school staff and the school nurse, if there’s a school nurse available, to communicate to us the information … then we give them guidance as to exactly how to respond, which people need to be excluded or not, which people need to be tested or not,” Zahn said.
COVID-19 Case Numbers Holding Steady
The OCHCA on Oct. 23 reported 162 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and six additional fatalities.
Orange County now has a total of 58,010 reported cases of the disease and 1,440 deaths. There are 162 people currently hospitalized and 58 cases in the intensive care unit (ICU).
Zahn said the number of people hospitalized and in the ICU has not changed much over the last several weeks.
“That really tells us the burden of serious disease that we are seeing in our community,” he said. “We’ve also begun opening up schools, and so we really wanted to make sure there wasn’t a ripple effect from that process. So the fact that we have remained on a flat trajectory in a sense is good.”
However, Zahn said that the numbers could start to go up or down at any time. He also warned residents of a possible winter spike in COVID-19 cases.
“We are all anticipating a potential increase in numbers of cases simply because we are entering cold and flu season. This may affect California less than other jurisdictions, but the idea that as it gets colder, people go inside and crowd more often. That’s just a risk by itself,” he said.