LA County updates school-reopening guidance; LAUSD tightens up own coronavirus rules

With schools preparing to reopen for fall semester over the next few weeks, officials for the county public health department and nation’s second-largest school district announced new COVID-19 guidance and policies this week aimed at keeping staff and students safe.

The county public health department is recommending that K-12 students who are exempt from wearing a mask inside a school building because of a disability or condition undergo COVID-19 testing at least twice weekly and is mandating employees in this position to test twice a week.

In addition, the order for K-12 schools, updated late Wednesday, July 28, recommends that even those who are vaccinated undergo testing if they’ve been exposed to someone with the coronavirus and affirmed that students prohibited from campus for not donning on a mask be offered alternative educational opportunities, consistent with state guidance.

The updated health order also does the following:

  • Reaffirms that staff and students who aren’t granted exemptions must wear a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status, consistent with a state mandate and recommendation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
  • Clarifies that physical distancing continues to be recommended if it doesn’t prevent all students from attending in-person classes full-time;
  • Clarifies that students must wear masks during physical education if the class is indoors;
  • Notes that fully vaccinated individuals who come in close contact with an infected person don’t have to quarantine, though it’s strongly recommended they be tested for the coronavirus.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, meanwhile, announced new testing requirements of its own on Thursday, July 29. Every student and school employee, regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated, must take part in baseline and weekly COVID-19 testing if they’re returning to campus, interim Superintendent Megan Reilly wrote in a message to LAUSD families.

Previously, the district had said those who are fully vaccinated would no longer have to undergo regular testing as they did during spring semester. But in her message, Reilly noted the ever-shifting conditions of the pandemic.

“As part of our efforts to maintain the safest possible environment for students and employees, we are closely monitoring evolving health conditions and adapting our response in preparation for our full return to in-person learning,” she wrote.

During a briefing on Thursday, Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County’s public health director, said she believes schools can safely reopen with the proper health and safety measures in place and that her department is not considering ordering schools to close despite the surge in coronavirus cases again as a result of the Delta variant.

“We’re all prepared to do our very best together (to) keep schools open,” she said while stressing that vaccination is the most valuable tool on hand to reduce the spread of the virus.

Children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for any of the COVID-19 vaccines, but officials are encouraging anyone who qualify to get the shots.

As of Sunday, 46% of children ages 12-15 had received at least one dose of the vaccine compared to 58% of those ages 16-17, according to county data.

“Vaccination is a game changer,” Ferrer said. “It helps to have staff and adults in the building vaccinated where you have small children. And in the high school and middle school, where you have teens vaccinated as well, this is all going to help us keep our schools open.”

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