LOS ANGELES (CN) — Los Angeles Unified School District began testing 5,000 of its staff members and their children for the novel coronavirus as part of a program that will be ramped up when the roughly 700,000 students at the nation’s second largest school district return to the classroom.
LA County’s Covid-19 case rate spiked between mid-June and early July. Now mid-September, the county has dropped back to pre-surge levels with a daily case rate below 1,000. But school officials say it’s still too soon to bring students back to the classroom.
“Don’t expect to see a decision about a return to school classrooms by students until the case rate in the area is significantly lower and remains there,” said LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner in a Monday briefing. “There’s no prize to be had by bringing students back too soon and this can lead to more cases of the virus in the school community amongst students, staff and families.”
But some children will be going back to school: 3,000 children of LA Unified staff are going to be kept in small groups of no more than six along with two adults. Students in need of one-to-one tutoring will also be allowed on campus with teachers and students meeting outside at a safe distance. All students and staff will be tested for the virus, according to the district.
Last week, the school district tested 5,400 people with a positivity rate less than 1% — just five people who tested positive according to Beutner. By comparison, the greater LA County positivity rate is 3.5%. The district expects to test about 20,000 per day in a few weeks and 40,000 per day as the program ramps up and more students return to school.
“An operation of this scale has implications beyond schools. We’ll be testing both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals,” said Beutner.
Fifty-nine individual schools want to reopen their classrooms for small groups of students according to LA County health officials, to offer learning to students with special needs and to English learners. About half of those schools began their lessons on Monday, according to LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
There has been a steady decline in Covid-19 cases in LA County in the last few weeks, but the county remains in the most restrictive category established by the state. LA County will need to see two consecutive weeks of fewer than 7 cases per 100,000 residents to move into the next health category. Last week, the county was at 9.6 cases per 100,000.
“It’s going to depend on what happened over Labor Day,” said Ferrer during a Monday briefing, referring to whether enough people practiced social distancing during the holiday weekend.
Meanwhile, six months after many theme parks closed their doors due to the virus a trade group representing Disneyland Resort, Universal Studios, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Knott’s Berry Farm and other amusement parks asked Governor Gavin Newsom for guidance on reopening.
“Tens of thousands of jobs have been weighing in the balance. Hundreds of millions of tax revenue that support critical local, state, and federal programs, lost. And local business that rely on amusement parks continue to struggle, with many closing permanently,” said California Attractions and Parks Association executive director Erin Guerrero.
LA County reported 733 new cases on Monday and 24 deaths, but health officials noted the figures may be low as some laboratories do not report their results over the weekend. Orange County reported 44 new cases and no new deaths.
In San Francisco, indoor hair and nail salons reopened Monday with a cap on the number of people who can be served indoors, while one-on-one training sessions at fitness centers can also resume. Health officials say restrictions on lodging at hotels and motels for tourism were also relaxed Monday.