County Issues Stricter COVID Rules for Schools

First published in the Jan. 6 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

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 nearly 45,000 new cases during the New Year’s weekend and an additional 16,269 and 21,790 cases on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. La Cañada Flintridge also saw a rise in cases with 441 new cases reported between Dec. 1 and Jan. 4, including cases reported in its school district.
The La Cañada Unified School District had students and staff tested at school sites on Monday and there were 140 positive tests and 13 additional presumptive positives out of 1,565. The near-10% positivity rate prompted the Governing Board and district staff to call for an emergency meeting on Tuesday.
“We have learned this morning that our positivity rate of the tests taken in the district [Monday] was 10% — that news was sort of shocking to a lot of us,” said President Dan Jeffries. “This 10% presents potential staffing issues with a number of teachers and staff also testing positive, and it presents health and safety issues to our students and staff.”
LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette presented the changes from the county to the Governing Board in an emergency meeting on Tuesday, and recommended that students return Thursday rather than Wednesday. She also wanted board approval on requiring students and staff to submit a negative COVID test that was done on Jan. 3 or later. The board unanimously approved her recommendations.
“This isn’t a call to action with fear of being overwhelmed,” Sinnette said. “It’s just being reflective and prudent over a course of action to take at this juncture as we prepare to reopen our schools for
in-person instruction.”
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 while others will welcome back students the following 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 require 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 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. La Cañada Unified staff was hopeful that it would receive a shipment of 5,000 coronavirus tests for families and staff before in-person instruction resumed on Thursday.
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 from Dec. 19-25.
“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.”