As COVID case rates explode in L.A., schools grapple with how to reopen safely during Omicron surge
What’s being done to keep kids safe as schools reopen during Omicron surge
With Omicron spreading with unprecedented speed, Los Angeles County is tightening coronavirus safety rules as schools reopen this week in hopes of slowing outbreaks.
The move comes at a perilous moment, with coronavirus infections surpassing previous highs.
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L.A. County recorded 23,553 new cases on Saturday and 21,200 more on Sunday, far above last winter’s peak average of 16,000 cases a day; and those numbers are probably undercounts due to lags from weekend reporting.
The coronavirus transmission rate in Los Angeles County is now estimated to be greater than at any point since the early months of the pandemic, as cases soar across California, data show. Every infected person in L.A. County is on average transmitting the virus to two other people, according to estimates from California’s COVID-19 computer models published Monday morning.
Officials have vowed to keep schools open despite the surge. Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer noted last week that there had been on average fewer than a dozen outbreaks per week across some 3,000 schools during the fall, which were typically small and immediately contained.
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The rules cover the 80 public school districts in Los Angeles County as well as private schools. About 50 K-12 school districts reopen Monday; the other 30, including Los Angeles Unified, are back Jan. 10.
School districts also are contemplating what additional actions to take on their own, with the Burbank Unified Board of Education holding an emergency meeting on Sunday and the L.A. Board of Education meeting Monday morning.
- Students who feel healthy but were close contacts of an infected person must take a coronavirus test within two weeks of school resuming after winter break. They do not have to quarantine at home unless they have symptoms or test positive. The county recommends — but does not require — that students be tested immediately after exposure and then again on Day 5, according to the letter.
- Masks must be worn outdoors “in crowded spaces where physical distancing is not feasible” except when actively eating and drinking.
- The county recommends but does not require students to wear higher-grade, not cloth, masks and urges anyone eligible to get a booster dose of the COVID vaccine.
- Athletic teams with four linked cases over 14 days have to suspend group activities for at least seven days, obtaining county health department approval before resuming.
Teachers and staff
- Employees at all Los Angeles County public and private schools will have to wear medical-grade masks, such as a surgical mask or a N95 or KN95 mask. School officials are supposed to provide these masks as needed.
- Under L.A. County’s new rules, additional safety measures would be triggered if county COVID-related hospitalizations surpass 3,000. Numbers are well below that — for now.
- California last month vowed to furnish every public elementary, middle and high school student with one or two rapid tests as they return from winter break. Gov. Gavin Newsom said California was ordering 6 million tests to send to partners around the state. He said the goal is to keep schools open and students and teachers safe.
Los Angeles Unified announced that weekly testing will continue through January and also has extended hours at testing locations this week, prior to the Jan. 10 resumption of school. But some parents and groups are clamoring for more aggressive action, urging baseline testing this week, before classes start.
The L.A. Board of Education has called a special closed session for Monday. The listed item is a “conference with labor negotiators,” suggesting that the district is considering how to manage and respond to issues that will arise with employees and the unions that represent them.
Although schools are reopening, some districts say they are ready to pivot if conditions change, including returning temporarily to remote learning.
The Burbank Unified school board on Sunday held an emergency meeting over a possible delay to the district reopening scheduled for today. After what Supt. Matt Hill called a “robust discussion,” the board decided to explore mandatory coronavirus testing for students and staff, enforce the vaccine booster for all employees by April 1, post a Friday update to the community with testing results, provide parents and employees with contact information for those with questions and concerns, meet with labor groups and update masking policies.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.