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Drop in COVID-19 cases indicates safe school openings in Los Angeles


The first weeks of fully open schools in Los Angeles County coincided with a drop in pediatric coronavirus cases, the first indication that campuses are generally operating safely without a disturbing number of outbreaks.

Citing the low number of coronavirus outbreaks in schools, LA County districts will no longer be required to send unvaccinated students home to quarantine if they come in contact with someone who tests positive and is they met certain security conditions, officials from the Public Health Ministry announced Thursday.

Over the past three weeks, coronavirus cases have declined by about 40% across all pediatric age groups, according to LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

“This is promising because it is happening as the students return to school,” she said in a briefing. “We therefore hope that by continuing to pay particular attention to school-based strategies that reduce the risk of exposure, we will continue to see these lower case rates in all age groups.”

The county has also recently seen declines in hospitalization rates for children, and Ferrer said that “if our case rates don’t increase, we anticipate a leveling off or even a slight decline in pediatric hospitalizations.”

From Aug. 15 to Monday, 7,995 cases were reported among K-12 students across the county, and 1,193 more were reported among staff. Given that there are over 1.5 million students in this age group, as well as 175,000 K-12 staff, this means that about 0.5% of the student body and about 0.7% of the workforce have tested positive since the start of the school year.

“It’s just slightly higher than the 0.4% infection rate we’ve seen across the county,” Ferrer said. “And, given the massive testing of asymptomatic individuals in schools, this very low infection rate confirms the safety offered to students and staff on their campuses.”

The revised quarantine policy allows the county’s 80 school districts to adopt a more relaxed policy, generally aligned with state guidelines designed to keep students in class. Until now, county policy has been stricter than state policy.

Under modified quarantine practices, if an unvaccinated student is identified as having close contact with an infected person and both have been masked for the duration of their exposure, the student may remain in class if they are. asymptomatic, continue to wear a face shield correctly and be tested twice weekly.

However, exposed unvaccinated students cannot participate in extracurricular activities, including athletics, during the modified quarantine period, and they must be tested five days after being exposed.

Vaccinated students do not need to be quarantined unless they show symptoms of illness. Nonetheless, it is still recommended that vaccinated students exposed to someone infected with a confirmed coronavirus get tested five days after exposure.

Children 11 and under cannot be vaccinated.

“We are convinced that with relatively low transmission in schools, it is appropriate to offer schools a modified quarantine option for K-12 students exposed to COVID in schools,” Ferrer said during of a press conference.

Ferrer said school districts are not required to adopt the policy and that they should make sure they have the resources to investigate cases.

“You have to be very careful to know for sure and to be able to verify that close contacts with cases only had mask-to-mask exposure,” Ferrer said.

There may be situations in which it will be difficult for school officials to determine whether a student with a confirmed coronavirus infection, and that child’s classmates, were fully masked for the duration of their stay. contact.

“It gets complicated when students are doing other activities together, especially having lunch or enjoying recess, where they are often outside and maybe take off their masks,” Ferrer said. If the infected or unvaccinated exposed person were found during the period of close contact, the exposed person would be returned home to quarantine.

Close contact is defined as a situation in which a person has been within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes in a day.

The relaxed quarantine policy can only be used in situations where authorities have not detected an outbreak, defined by linked cases involving three or more people in which transmission has likely occurred in schools or hospitals. school activities.

If an outbreak is detected, unvaccinated students identified as close contacts will need to follow standard quarantine procedures and be sent home for at least eight days.

The relaxed and modified quarantine policy does not apply to teachers and staff, which means that school employees who are still not vaccinated but who come in close contact with someone infected with the coronavirus should be fired at home for at least eight days.

The LA Unified School District has demanded that all teachers and staff be immunized by October 15. However, not all school districts may have a similar policy. California policy has only ordered public school employees to be vaccinated or undergo a weekly coronavirus test. LA Unified last week ordered all children 12 and older to be fully immunized by January to enter campus, the first such term among the nation’s largest school systems.

Ferrer said the amended quarantine policy aims to ensure that students’ learning is disrupted as little as possible.

It was not immediately clear whether LAUSD would adopt the relaxed quarantine policy as county districts evaluated their new option.

The Alhambra Unified School District, for its part, has no plans to adopt it.

Supt. Denise R. Jaramillo said the district’s current quarantine policy has been working very well so far.

“We have a high community vaccination rate, a low case rate, a strong and motivated team of contact tracers, and a high-quality, transparent virtual program for students who need to self-quarantine,” Jaramillo said. The district this week launched weekly tests for all students, regardless of their immunization status, and out of 3,000 tests, it has identified three positive cases.

The changed quarantine policy will require more vigilance and resources than the district has, Jaramillo said.

“With teachers already tasked with multiple responsibilities for 25 or more students per class, this heightened vigilance requires more than we have staff to say,” she said.