After a motion was approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health plans to open the school waiver program for in-person instruction for grades TK-2.
Previously, schools in the nation’s second-largest district had only been allowed to reopen for students with special learning needs. The state has allowed counties to reopen schools for months via waivers, but L.A.-area health officials decided not to allow them.
The program will begin accepting applications in early October. Thirty schools per week will be considered. The county will prioritize the issuance of waivers to schools with higher percentages of students qualified for free/reduced meals.
Superintendents must submit school district waiver requests to re-open for approval by the local Health Officer. The decision to grant a waiver will be based on ensuring that schools are able to open in full adherence with the L.A. County school re-opening protocols.
Those include the following:
-A School COVID-19 Compliance Task Force that is responsible for establishing and enforcing all COVID-19 safety protocols
-A plan for all potentially-infected students and employees to have access to testing
If more than two students or employees are infected, the protocols may escalate: If outbreak criteria are not met, the school continues with routine exposure management. But if outbreak criteria are met, the DPH Outbreak Management Branch will assign a public health investigator to coordinate with the school on outbreak management for the duration of the investigation.
The state protocols have included teaching students in small cohorts — groups of less than 14 children — instead of classes as large as 30 or 40. This guideline will likely remain in effect.
The process requires consultation with the California Department of Public Health prior to accepting or rejecting waiver applications. The application process will be available online at publichealth.lacounty.gov and will be launched in early October.
In terms of when schools would need to close again amid outbreaks, the state guidelines suggest that “closure
may be appropriate when there are multiple cases in multiple cohorts at a school or when at least 5 percent of the total number of teachers/student/staff are cases within a 14-day period.”
In terms of shutting districts down, California guidelines say, “A superintendent should close a school district if 25% or more of schools in a district have closed due to COVID-19 within 14 days, and in consultation with the local public health department.”
Health officials have cause to move carefully. The Washington Post reported that, one month after most schools reopened in the state, infections among school-aged children jumped 34%.
Locally, while school-aged children have still been relatively spared COVID-19, the biggest recent increase in hospitalizations is among young adults 18-29. They now make up 10% of coronavirus patients hospitalized in L.A., according to public health officials on Monday. What’s more, deaths among that age group have also recently spiked, now accounting for 5% of fatalities.
On Tuesday, L.A. county confirmed 39 new deaths and 905 new cases of confirmed COVID-19. To date, L.A. has identified 269,284 positive cases of COVID-19 and seen a total of 6,551 deaths.
COVID-19 Daily Update:
September 29, 2020
New Cases: 905 (269,284 to date)
New Deaths: 39 (6,551 to date)
Current Hospitalizations: 714 pic.twitter.com/GbyXwj7bw8
— LA Public Health (@lapublichealth) September 29, 2020
Los Angeles remains in the state’s most restrictive tier for reopening based on its coronavirus numbers. The regions’s adjusted case rate per 100,000 people is 7.3. Its test positivity rate is 2.9 percent.
While the test positivity rate is well below where it needs to be, the case rate per 100,000 people is just a little too high to move into a less restrictive tier. It needs to be below 7. See chart below.
NEW: California is launching a Blueprint for a Safer Economy.
Your county will be assigned a color based on:
– Case rate
– Positivity rate
Your color determines how businesses can operate in your county.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) August 28, 2020
What’s more, L.A. County health officials have indicated that the “R effective,” of the rate at which infections are growing on sinking, has risen of late to 1.02. At 1, the R effective means for every one person infected only one other gets infected. At more than 1, infections are growing. And while 1.02 may not seem like much, over weeks the impact can become exponential, according to health officials.
California announced on Tuesday that counties in all coronavirus risk tiers can reopen playgrounds.
The idea, said the state’s top health official, is to provide “more outlets for young people where the risk is low.”
“There have not been…any significant outbreaks linked to playgrounds,” he noted.
The new guidance does not include indoor playgrounds or family entertainment centers, which must remain closed. It does require that everyone 2 and older wear a face covering at outdoor playgrounds and that children remain under adult supervision to ensure masks are kept on.