Coronavirus: Schools line up to reopen as LA County lays out the path
With coronavirus case rates in Los Angeles County now below a level deemed acceptable by the state to open grade schools, students at close to 300 elementary school were poised to get back to class and hundreds more schools could open in a matter of weeks.
Average daily case rates in L.A. County reached 20 per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, officially falling below the state’s threshold of 25 cases per 100,000 to open schools grades Pre-Kindergarten to 6th Grade.
For those schools that do reopen, they will need to follow strict guidelines and only 25% of the total student body is allowed on campus at any given time. Youth sports can also resume for outdoor conditioning. Applications were now open. And if schools don’t hear back in seven days, they are free to reopen.
County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis said the news was important for so many people struggling to support their families while teaching their kids at home.
“The process has been very unworkable for many,” Solis said. “The digital divide has only expanded the learning gap. School closures have impacted so many families across the district. Thee effects are even worse for parents struggling to find work through this pandemic.”
For junior high and high school students, they will have to wait. Average case rates need to drop below seven per 100,000, putting the county in the Red Tier, a milestone Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county would get too soon, but chose not to hazard a guess.
“I’m always optimistic but always cautious about the optimism,” Ferrer said during a media briefing Tuesday. “In our best days in September we only qualified for Red Tier for one week when case rates dropped below seven. I’m confident we can get there but we all have to stay on track.”
Ferrer credited the efforts among millions of county residents to bring transmission of the coronavirus down considerable. But there was still much ground that still needed to be made, she said.
On Tuesday, the county reported 120 deaths and 1,260 new cases, bringing the total number of deaths to 19,215 and total cases at 1,169,550. Hospitalizations were now below 3,000 people with COVID-19.
By every measure, circumstances in L.A. County were improving. But Ferrer warned about the mutant variants, several of which have been identified in L.A. County.
“We do have circulating more infectious variants so we have to be more careful not less careful right now,” Ferrer said.
Every virus mutates, she said, so variants were not cause for extreme alarm.
On the vaccine front, L.A. County is now inoculating roughly 600,000 people per week — incorporating multiple efforts beyond just the county and city of L.A.’s own network. So far the county has delivered 1.5 million doses, according to state and county records but that number may not fully account for all doses.
A new mass vaccination site delivering roughly 6,000 doses per day opened Tuesday at Cal State L.A. There is a site in Pomona run by Kaiser Permanente. And another site in Carson opened this week through Dignity Health.
Beginning March 1, teachers along with other essential workers will become eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine. And starting March 15, all adults with pre-existing conditions can get vaccinated.
When it comes to schools, officials stressed: Just because campuses can reopen doesn’t mean they will.
In order to open, much of the same requirements are in place that were used to grant waivers for special needs students and grades Pre-Kindergarten to second grade. Those rules require districts submit a COVID-19 safety plan and consult with teacher unions, parent groups and administrators.
The county already granted 297 schools such waivers, which means they can open immediately. A dozen more districts were approved to reopen grade schools already such as L.A. Unified School District. But so far, an agreement with the teacher’s union has yet to be reached.
Such agreements will need to be reached at many districts wishing to reopen campuses and Ferrer acknowledged the challenges. Leaders with United Teachers Los Angeles have said teachers will need to vaccinated before they return to the classroom.
“This is pathway forward for a school community that wants to move forward,” Ferrer said. “We obviously feel confident that if the protocols were adhered to all of the time it creates enough safety in that environment. But we acknowledge there are teachers and staff and parents that might feel differently.”
For those parents that still feel uncomfortable sending students back to any school campus that reopens, the county will require that schools offer full-time distance learning options.
“The ability for elementary schools to reopen is welcomed news for many parents,” Ferrer said. “I also know there are many parents who don’t feel it’s safe for their children to return to in-person learning.”