The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District is urging students and staff to protect themselves with a COVID-19 vaccine as cases of the illness pop up throughout local schools.

Officials have organized a series of vaccine clinics for parents and students, beginning with a Sept. 16 clinic at Righetti High School, another Thursday at Santa Maria High School, and a third scheduled for 2 p.m. Sept. 30 at Pioneer Valley High School. 

District officials are also reminding students and staff to stay home if they have any symptoms of illness, have tested positive for COVID-19, or are a close contact of someone who has tested positive.

Following COVID-19 testing of 2,505 students and 244 staff across the district's four schools since the school year began on Aug. 12, the district has identified 33 positive student cases and six positive staff cases as of Tuesday, according to Superintendent Antonio Garcia.

"Staying home when sick with COVID-19 is essential and will help continue to keep infections out of the school environment and prevent the spread to others," Garcia said in a notice to parents earlier this month. "In recognizing the number of positive cases among students and staff has been extremely low in relation to our total population, we nonetheless want to prevent any spread of cases, especially when preventable."

Positive cases have affected day-to-day activities as recently as this week, with district spokesman Kenny Klein announcing Wednesday that COVID-19 cases on the Pioneer Valley football team had led to the postponement of Friday's "Main Street Classic" game against Santa Maria High School. 

"The team should be cleared to return to play by next week," Klein said. 

Santa Barbara County residents ages 12 to 15 continue to have the lowest vaccination rates of any eligible age group, with 48% of the population fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to county public health data.

District employees are required to provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination by Oct. 18 or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, following a state mandate established in August. 

COVID-19 vaccines are free and available to all residents age 12 and up, regardless of documentation or health insurance status. To find a nearby walk-in clinic or appointment, visit myturn.ca.gov.

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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