LA County Health Officials Lay Out Road Map for Reopening Schools

Los Angeles Unified School District students stand in a hallway socially distance during a lunch break at Boys & Girls Club of Hollywood in Los Angeles, on Aug. 26. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The Covid-19 pandemic forced students into virtual classrooms at breakneck speeds but Los Angeles County health officials reported Monday that 32,000 children under the age of 18 caught the virus anyway.  

This sobering figure was relayed during a virtual town hall as health officials discussed how classrooms would be different when schools reopen in LA County. 

Children will have to wear masks, keep far away from their classmates and refrain from touching just any toy laying on the floor, the officials said. 

“Children are very good at understanding if we give them time and tell them why,” said LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “We all do a lot of better when we’re told why it’s so important. That’s one thing we’d like parents to help us with.”

Parents will need to relay to their children why their classrooms are so much smaller, why they will need to wear their masks all day except for lunch time and why students will need to avoid playing with children outside of their designated groups.

LA County is in the most restrictive tier under the state’s health grading system and the county saw a surge in cases in the first week of November. Since the onset of the pandemic, LA County has reported over 320,000 cases. Statewide health guidelines break down re-openings by each county. Since LA County is in the most restrictive tier, schools cannot yet fully reopen.

But over 1,500 schools in LA County have either reopened or are reopening for a limited number of students. Students are already in their school buildings for special services, like one-on-one therapies, assessments and some lessons.

Around 75,000 students in the county are receiving some limited in-person classroom instruction and 210 schools in the county have applied with the county’s health department for waivers to open for in-person learning for transitional kindergarten to second grade classes.  

Waiver applications are evaluated and approved by county health officials to create a safe environment to ensure that students are going back to a safe setting.

“As many of you know, the people in your school community do not necessarily live in the neighborhood,” said Ferrer.

She added that a student sports team went against the county health order and traveled to Arizona to play a baseball game in a trip not approved by the school. When those students returned to LA County, nine confirmed cases were reported at their school.

“All it took was one baseball team to go to Arizona … and it’s really setting us back in that school,” Ferrer said.

Health officials were peppered with questions by parents and what-if scenarios during the virtual town hall Monday. What if a student gets the flu? Will students and teachers need to provide a negative test result if they test positive to return to school? Will students be forced to go back to school when in-person lessons resume?

Superintendent Debra Duardo with the regional education agency LA County Office of Education (LACOE) said parents will have options.

“Schools will be offering some form of continued distance learning,” said Duardo. 

That might be some relief to parents who are afraid of sending their children back to school in a county as large as LA. The largest school district in the county serves about 600,000 students and LACOE provides resources to 80 school districts and serves roughly 2 million students.

Students will need to stay home for 10 days if they test positive, Dr. Dawn Terashita said. They can return to school if their fever and symptoms go away but even if someone tests positive and doesn’t show any symptoms, they still have to stay home for the full 10 days.

“Testing will never protect us entirely from the virus,” Ferrer said. She cited outbreaks at the White House and among the LA Dodgers, which occurred despite daily tests. 

Face masks, washing hands and social distancing are still going to be the go-tos to slow the spread of the virus.

“We learnt, especially after that huge surge in July where we saw 3,000 cases in a day, that every single one of us has steps we can take that actually lower the rate of transmission,” Ferrer said. “We know what we need to do to protect each other.”

Health officials said parents should keep their kids at home if they experience flu-like symptoms. On the off-chance a student with such symptoms makes it through the screening process at their school’s entrance, Ferrer said, all the students and teachers in that classroom would be sent home until it is determined if the student has the flu or Covid-19.

“This is not the time to give your child some Tylenol or Advil in the morning in the morning and send them off to school,” Ferrer said. “Please, please, please leave them home so they can fully recover.”

Terashita said that a child who tests negative for Covid-19 will still have to stay home for 72 hours after that test.

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