LA County announces that many schools could reopen grades TK-6 as soon as this week
Los Angeles County health officials were informing schools around the county Monday evening, Feb. 15, that dozens of elementary schools would be permitted to reopen for in-class instruction for students in transitional kindergarten through the sixth grade as early as this week, a media release said.
The state’s tiered coronavirus assessment system permits elementary schools to reopen as regions attain an adjusted case rate of 25 per 100,000 population. COfficials said Monday they expected to announce that county has cleared that threshold as of Tuesday’s statistical update. Officials said they intended to spread the word to schools via an emailed letter Monday evening.
But L.A. County leaders were already touting what appeared to be a major moment in the climb out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is what we have been working towards,” said L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn via Twitter. “Thank you to everyone who has worn your masks and kept your distance. Case rates in LA County are dropping. Now we can continue the work getting our kids and teachers safely back in classrooms where they belong.”
School officials who wish to reopen must submit plans to the county and state departments of public health, confirming that the campuses have implemented sufficient safety measures to permit a safe reopening, the media release said.
County health director Barbara Ferrer would announce additional information Tuesday afternoon at a media briefing at 2 p.m., the statement said.
While schools may now have the authority to reopen campuses, not every district will do so immediately. Some want to wait until their employees are vaccinated before they call students and staff back, even though the CDC last week issued guidance that said vaccinating staff is not a prerequisite for reopening classrooms.
And it does not mean grades seven through 12 can reopen. That won’t happen until the county moves from the state’s most restrictive purple tier into the next less restrictive red tier — and, even then, under public health directives.
In addition to the vaccination issue, some districts, particularly the larger, urban ones, do not feel the levels of transmission in their communities are low enough that they’re comfortable reopening yet.
And in the case of Los Angeles Unified and Long Beach Unified, the districts have not reached an agreement with their teachers union to bring students and staff back. Long Beach has talked about phasing in reopenings starting March 1.
LA Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner earlier on Monday said, regarding the matter of when schools will reopen, that district has done its part in comprehensively ensuring that every campus is safe, including:
- Retrofitting 80 million square feet of school buildings to make sure air is properly filtered;
- Cleaning and sanitizing every room in every school;
- Providing masks and PPE;
- Reconfiguring classrooms and facilities to maintain social distance; and
- Creating a school-based COVID-19 testing and contact tracing program.
Beutner and other officials and union leaders from several of the state’s largest school districts have balked at the governor’s reopening plan for schools, claiming it falls short on funding for urban school districts.
The United Teachers Los Angeles has called for campuses to remain closed until teachers and staff can be vaccinated — a position opposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Meanwhile, the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus in Los Angeles County dropped below 3,000 on Monday, Feb. 15, for the first time since early December, another sign that the holiday surge has retreated. Meanwhile, the county continued to grapple with the puzzle of advancing efforts to vaccinate the county’s 10 million people with the sporadic influx of doses.
Hospitalizations fell to 2,964, according to the state’s metrics. That’s a decline of 128 from the day before and a 63% drop from Jan. 6, when 8,098 beds across the region were full and the healthcare system was on the cusp of a full on crisis. Many said it already was one.
Successful efforts to slow the spread appeared to be reflected in the region’s intensive care units, where 908 patients were treated. It was still a high number in the course of the year-old pandemic — but a steep fall from where it was just one month ago, when 1,709 patients had filled the region’s precious ICU beds.
“We’re on a downward trend, and in order to keep on that downward trend it’s going to take our collective actions as individuals and businesses to have that continue to go down, and to to see less hospitalizations, less cases and less deaths,” said Dr. Muntu Davis, the county’s health officer, on Friday. “We still have to maintain our vigilance.”
That collective vigilance appears to be working.
Public Health on Monday reported 29 new deaths and 1,869 new cases of confirmed COVID-19 in L.A. County.
The lower number of deaths and cases may reflect reporting delays over the weekend and today’s holiday, officials said. The numbers belied the 7-day average of 139 daily deaths. Officials said that’s likely because of delays in reporting the data over the holiday weekend.
With 29 deaths, the county’s total death county raised to 19,095, with 1,168,358 confirmed cases since February. Still, the test positivity rate has come down 64% in a month to 5.2%.
In the two cities that operate their own health departments: Long Beach did not update Monday, but as of Friday, Long Beach reported 768 deaths and 50,196 cases. Pasadena reported 14 new cases Monday for a total of 10,667; its death toll remained 296.
About 70% of those hospitalized with the virus are Hispanic, a number that continues to alarm public health officials who continue to plan for more vaccines in such underserved communities as South L.A., East L.A. and in the northeastern end of the San Fernando Valley.
Officials are also concerned because frontline and essential workers — many of whom are Hispanic — live and work in underserved communities. And they work in businesses that continue to see outbreaks of the virus.
Dodger Stadium, the largest vaccination site in the nation, was set to re-open on Tuesday after city officials announced last week it had to close because supplies of vaccine were too low. Supplies remain thin, so the mega site will focus on second doses this week.
“Our city has the tools, the infrastructure, and the determination to vaccinate Angelenos swiftly and safely — we simply need more doses,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement. “Our density and demographics have made our region an epicenter of this crisis in recent months, and with a reliable, consistent supply of vaccines, we can get more shots into people’s arms, bring down rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, and defeat this pandemic once and for all.”
The City of L.A. was set to receive 54,000 doses of Moderna and 4,000 doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines this week, according to the Mayor’s Office.
“If the City receives additional supply this week, more first-dose appointments will become available online,” according to the city.
L.A. County-operated sites will also open up Tuesday with the emphasis on second doses, said Dr. Paul Simon, the county’s chief science officer.
“We’re all frustrated,” Simon said, wishing more of the serum could be distributed. “We know we could do much more if we had available doses.”
The county — and its more than 350 vaccine sites — has capacity to do 600,000 shots a week but gets only an average of 200,000 doses.
“We have a much greater capacity, if we could get the available vaccines,” Simon said.
Even with still limited supply, more groups will become eligible soon. Public safety workers, teachers, agricultural workers, and farm workers are all in the next eligibility phase, which official said last week could open up within two weeks. Also eligible down the road, in mid-March, will be people ages 16 to 64 with health issues that would allow them to get vaccinated at the discretion of their healthcare provider.
But even with beefed up eligibility, officials said it was no guarantee enough virus would be available immediately, or on demand.
“We’re all eager to expand the eligibility to other groups. But we simply have to wait until we have enough vaccine to do that,” Simon said.
So far, more than 1.5 million doses have been administered in Los Angeles County.
But there were positive signs Monday.
A new COVID-19 vaccination site opened Monday at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, providing first-dose inoculations all week long by appointment only.
The site is a joint effort by Dignity Health, the LA Galaxy and Dignity Health Sports Park, and will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday of this week.
The Los Angeles Unified School District will open its first COVID-19 vaccination site this week, with plans to inoculate only district employees ages 65 and over and those working at testing and vaccination sites for the time being.
Starting Wednesday, school nurses and licensed healthcare professionals will administer the Moderna vaccine at the Roybal Learning Center in L.A.’s Westlake neighborhood, LAUSD Superintendent Beutner announced during his weekly community update on Monday, Feb. 15.
Eligible employees will be notified to book an appointment, a spokeswoman for the district said. There are about 3,425 LAUSD school-based employees ages 65 and older, but the district has not tracked how many have already been vaccinated, she said. She did not say how many doses of vaccines the district will receive this week.
Another new vaccine site, part of a joint effort between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the governor’s Office of Emergency Services, is set to open Tuesday at Cal State Los Angeles.
The community-focused site will be able to vaccinate up to 6,000 people per day for both drive-thru and walk-up appointments and will also deploy a mobile clinic that will visit local community centers and schools.
“Folks will be able to come to Cal State L.A. using transit and then walk up and get their vaccine,” Jose Gomez, executive vice president and provost of the university, told reporters last week.