LA school staff to wear high-quality masks in the midst of the Omicron rise

Staff at all public and private schools in Los Angeles County will have to wear medical-grade masks at work, and students and staff will have to wear masks outdoors in crowded spaces under stricter rules issued in anticipation of classes beginning on Monday. amid a sharp rise in the highly contagious Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Schools have two weeks from the reopening date after the winter holidays to comply with the mask rules. The order was issued late Friday to the county’s 80 school districts by public health director Barbara Ferrer “in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.” About 50 K-12 school districts will reopen Monday; the other 30, including Los Angeles Unified, are back the following week.

The rules also set stricter protocols for dealing with outbreaks of athletic teams, and when testing should take place for students to remain on campus after being exposed to a coronavirus infection.

Los Angeles County recorded more than 27,000 new cases on the last day of 2021, well above last winter’s highest average of 16,000 cases per day. Nearly 1 in 4 people being tested is positive for a coronavirus infection, officials said. The daily number of new coronavirus cases doubles every other day.

So far, the current rise is not as deadly as last year’s – because most county residents are fully vaccinated and possibly because Omicron could be less virulent. But hospitalizations are rising rapidly, and officials are worried that children and staff will carry the virus into schools after family holiday gatherings and social events.

According to the latest safety rules, students who feel healthy but who have been in close contact with an infected person must take a coronavirus test within two weeks. They should not be quarantined at home unless they have symptoms or test positive. The county recommends – but does not require – that students be tested immediately after exposure and then again on day five, according to the letter.

Masks must be worn outdoors “in crowded spaces where physical distance is not possible”, except when actively eating and drinking. In the fall, outdoor masking was not required, although some districts could do so. LA Unified – the country’s second largest district – was among the school systems that required outdoor masking.

The county letter also recommended – but did not require – that students wear higher quality masks, not cloth, and urged anyone eligible to receive a booster dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

Athletic teams with four associated cases over 14 days would need to suspend group activities for at least seven days and obtain approval from the county health department before resuming.

Additional security measures will be triggered if the county’s COVID-related hospital admissions exceed 3,000. The numbers are far below that – so far.

“With these policies, we seek to strike a balance between the safety of students and staff on the one hand and your ability to implement additional safeguards on the other,” Ferrer wrote in his letter.

With so many school systems set to open on Monday, officials would have been hard pressed to abide by the new rules before students returned. The changes were not a complete surprise; Ferrer had signaled that they were being considered at a briefing earlier last week with senior school officials.

With infections exceeding record levels, county officials decided Friday that it was time to act, sending the news out late in the day to school and district leaders.

“I apologize for interrupting your New Year’s Eve, but wanted to get information to you as soon as possible,” wrote Debra Duardo, superintendent of the LA County Office of Education, who works closely with the county health department. “We received an email from [county health] at 16.35 today regarding updates to K-12 policies in response to Omicron with a request to provide this information to all 80 districts ASAP. I am aware that these changes will create challenges in an already difficult situation for all of you. I’m sorry this gives you such short notice. “

Los Angeles Unified, with about a third of the county’s students, opens Jan. 10. In the fall, it was one of the few districts to test all adults and students each week – and recently announced that testing will continue through January. However, some parents and groups are calling for more aggressive action and are calling for a baseline test next week before classes begin.

“Schools already have the infrastructure in place for weekly tests, so starting it a week early should not be complicated and will provide a much-needed baseline,” wrote leaders of the Parents Supporting Teachers group, which includes both parents and teachers. “Everyone who enters a school building the second week of January deserves to be informed and feel safe.”

Parents John Leddy and Christy Lambertson reiterated the call for baseline testing and even called for testing twice a week and considering postponing the start of the semester “especially if the numbers are as bad or worse by the end of next week,” they wrote in a letter to school district officials.

“Perhaps LAUSD should allow families to go to home school with daily lesson plans, provided by teachers, which requires parents and caregivers to be more actively involved in their child’s daily education for a short period of one or two weeks,” the parents wrote. has a child at Beethoven Street Elementary in Mar Vista. “LAUSD must acknowledge that we can not continue as if this terrible wave is not leaps and bounds worse than when we left campus.”

Families who want to be tested before school resumes have some options, with the district extending the opening hours of its test centers from Monday. Quick tests provided by the state – one or two per. students – will also be available soon.

LA Unified had required baseline testing in the fall, though districts that did not conduct the test appeared to be able to operate safely at the time. LAUSD is in regular contact with health experts and is ready to follow their guidance, school board member Jackie Goldberg told The Times last week.

In a Friday tweet, LA Unified officials tried to reassure parents and staff: “We will adjust our safety standards as needed to remain responsive to the changing conditions of the pandemic.”

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