First published in the Jan. 8 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health revised its health order for schools last weekend in an effort to combat a dramatic spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across Southern California since Christmas.
All school employees are now required to wear medical grade masks — such as surgical or KN95 masks — while working and the county suggests that students also wear them. Students and staff also must wear their masks outdoors in crowded outdoor settings on campus, except when they’re eating, “where [social] distancing cannot be easily or reliably maintained.”
The county reported 43,712 new cases on Friday, after logging nearly 45,000 across the New Year’s weekend, an additional 16,269 and 21,790 cases on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, and more than 37,000 on Thursday. The seven-day positivity rate was 20.9%, and 85% of the sequenced new cases from last week were the Omicron variant.
As of Thursday’s report, Glendale has accumulated 32,267 confirmed COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic. Since Dec. 1, that includes 6,524 new cases — meaning that 20.22% (or one in five) of the city’s recorded infections since March 2020 have occurred in the past 38 days. One silver lining, meanwhile, is that daily new deaths in Glendale remain low — since Dec. 1, there have mostly been between zero and one death daily, with five spikes — two days with two deaths, one day each with three and four deaths and, on Dec. 19, eight deaths.
Glendale’s seven-day new death average has hovered between zero and one since March last year.
Meanwhile, in unincorporated La Crescenta-Montrose, the cumulative case count climbed to 2,030 as of Thursday, with 512 of those — 25.22% of the total, a full quarter — being recorded since Dec. 1. There has just been one death there in that time period, bringing the total to 20 since March 2020.
Though vaccinations and an Omicron variant that is possibly less severe than previous strains have kept the recent surge less deadly than the previous winter, health officials moved forward with tightening some restrictions at school sites — most of which resumed in-person instruction this week — to prevent them from shutting down because of COVID-19 transmission.
“During this surge, given the spread of a more infectious strain of the virus, lapses can lead to explosive transmission,” Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County Public Health director, said in a statement on Sunday.
“Well-fitting and high-quality masks are an essential layer of protection when people are in close contact with others, especially when indoors or in outdoor crowded spaces where distancing is not possible. Although masks can be annoying and even uncomfortable for some, given that many infected individuals are spreading COVID one to two days before they are symptomatic, the physical barrier tendered by a mask is known to reduce the spread of virus particles.”
The safety protocols for close contacts were also modified and now requires all students, regardless of vaccination status, who are close contacts to quarantine immediately for five days. The student may end their isolation period after the fifth day as long as they do not show any symptoms and have proof of a negative coronavirus test.
The county added that at-home COVID-19 tests are acceptable, but the product is scarce at the moment. Some districts throughout California are still waiting for the home kits promised by Gov. Gavin Newsom in December.
The Glendale Unified School District is resuming classes on Monday, and the Board of Education decided this week that families and students must attest to having received a negative COVID-19 test result before entering campus. The question will be posed on GUSD’s health screening app, and either type of test is acceptable, according to the district. Per the county health department’s policy, GUSD will stick with the “honor system” in regard to answers, and consequences for having lied will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
The district’s regular weekly testing will also resume at all usual facilities on Monday.
“We think that there is testing capacity at the schools now to continue with that routine testing,” Ferrer said this week. “We know there’s anxiety because all of the schools have not received those test kits in time to be able to test all students before schools open but we do want to note that many schools have test kits and many schools have resumed routine testing and I think with the additional safety measures in place … that will help again prevent transmission at the schools.”
President Joe Biden recently addressed the surge affecting the entire nation and urged people to follow health guidelines and get vaccinated.
“Omicron is very transmissible but much different from anything we’ve seen before,” he said prior to meeting with his COVID-19 advisory team on Monday. “But you can protect yourself and you should protect yourself, quite frankly. Get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask while you’re in public because what we know is this: the impact from the rising cases depends on … what their vaccination status is.”
Recent data from L.A. County corroborates Biden’s address to the nation. Intensive care unit admission was 21.3 times higher among unvaccinated individuals than among those who are fully inoculated from Dec. 15-28. The death rate among those who are not vaccinated was also significantly higher at 22.3.
Vaccinated and boosted individuals were almost four times less likely to get infected and 38 times less likely to be hospitalized than those who were unvaccinated, the county said this week.
“Even as transmission surges, we are seeing that vaccines are doing what they were intended to do, which is protect people from getting severely ill due to COVID,” Ferrer said on Tuesday. “Choosing not to take the vaccine during this explosive winter surge is very risky since so many of those ill with COVID in the intensive care units at hospitals are unvaccinated, and tragically, some of these individuals will not survive.”
In Glendale, 62.8% of residents ages 5 and older are listed by the county as being fully vaccinated. Although this includes 57.3% of children ages 12-17, only 23.5% of children ages 5-11 have gotten even one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with 15.4% having received both doses.
La Crescenta-Montrose continues to have some of the highest vaccination numbers in the county, with 78.7% of residents ages 5 and older being fully vaccinated. This includes all 12- to 17-year-olds and 56.4% of children ages 5-11.
– Oscar Areliz contributed to this report.