LA Unified Orders COVID Testing Amid High Anxiety For Omicron

The Los Angeles School District has ordered coronavirus tests for all students and staff ahead of their return from winter vacation next week as a new period of high anxiety sets in among parents and educators amidst of the explosive wave of the Omicron variant.

Many parents have expressed fears about the rapid spread of the contagion; others are terrified of possible campus closures that could derail a return to normalcy necessary for their children’s mental health and school recovery.

Although none of the 80 staff tested positive early in school, according to those familiar with a morning briefing.

Senior school officials have expressed concern over having enough healthy staff to stay open and get large numbers of rapid-results coronavirus tests. They also expressed concerns about the rapidly changing rules around who should isolate and quarantine and for how long.

Concerned parents send their children to school, begging them to wear masks, wash their hands and keep their distance from their friends.

“Please don’t take off your mask and walk into a large crowd of students,” Maria Castro told her daughter at Long Beach Polytechnic High School. “Please my love.”

To calm her nerves, Castro returned home and logged in to a Zoom session her church was offering. And with other parents, she prayed for their children.

Colleges are also grappling with many of the same issues – and most University of California campuses have turned to temporary distance learning and require negative coronavirus tests for students to return to dorms.

At all levels, education remains far from familiar – and stressful.

When LA educates the acting superintendent. Megan Reilly announced the latest measures to contain the pandemic, she stressed her gratitude and the need for patience.

“As a unified community of Los Angeles, we will work together to keep our students safe,” Reilly said in her letter to parents and staff. “We also thank our families and employees for their continued support and patience. “

The goal in making back-to-school testing mandatory, said school board member Nick Melvoin, is to provide safe and open campuses and “peace of mind.”

Exercise in the nation’s second-largest school system means anyone who intends to travel to a campus next week to work or learn will have to show proof of a negative coronavirus test. The announcement came hours after a special school board meeting hastily called Monday morning.

Employees who are not already on duty this week will receive two hours of pay to take the tests this week. If they wait until Monday – when they’ll be back after winter break – they’ll be given all the time off they need to be tested, but no extra pay. School employees return to work on January 10. The students return on January 11.

The baseline tests would supplement the required weekly ongoing tests of all students and staff – about 500,000 swabs per week. Families can provide a PCR test or an antigen test – either from a district testing site or elsewhere. They can also use home tests. But officials are asking families to upload the results to the district’s Daily Pass system by Sunday, January 9.

The district plan gained immediate support from unions representing office workers, teachers and administrators.

The move comes as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is spurring new infections at a record rate in Los Angeles County, estimated at more than at any time since the early months of the pandemic, data shows. Each infected person in LA County transmits the virus, on average, to two other people, according to estimates from California COVID-19 computer models released Monday morning.

Hospitalizations and deaths have not followed this increase as most of the county’s residents are vaccinated, according to local health officials, although serious complications can occur days or weeks after infection.

School districts across the county must follow new and tougher safety rules. All county school employees are required to use medical grade protective masks inside campus. Schools, including private schools, and school systems have two weeks to comply after reopening.

LA’s huge school system, with the nation’s largest weekly coronavirus testing program, has 11 testing centers. Mobile testing teams are deploying to schools, setting up temporary clinics for a day or more until Saturday.

Woodland Hills parent Pooja Shah said in an email that she was grateful.

“I have a 4 year old immune compromised child at home that I am worried about,” Shah said. “I am happy that the basic tests are compulsory to enter school.”

Other parents have expressed concern that Los Angeles Unified could delay the semester or return to distance online learning.

“When the disease continues to not be serious for the children, it is not what is best for them,” said Robert Herron, whose child attends the public school in the Mar Vista area. “And as a kicker, you penalize those who have the least resources to overcome academic loss, whose communities are least able to protect themselves from the pandemic.”

Although LA County school districts are not closing their campuses, staff shortages and high COVID rates have forced districts to connect to other areas of the country, including Newark, Cleveland and Atlanta, among others. In New York, student and teacher absences were reportedly high on Monday.

Alhambra Unified in the San Gabriel Valley welcomed its 16,000 students to the school on Monday, with new rules requiring students to mask themselves outdoors and advising all students and staff to wear masks medical grade on campus. Authorities hope most will provide their own medical-grade masks.

“Right now we don’t have enough,” said Toby Gilbert, chief information officer. “It will be a challenge, but we have taken on bigger challenges than this. “

The district has also started offering antigen testing for students and staff and is considering weekly testing for all students. Until now, families could opt for weekly tests.

At Alhambra High School, students disembarked at 3:30 p.m. Kenneth Tang, a junior who wore a KN95 mask, didn’t seem fazed by the new requirements and said he wasn’t going to dwell on the illness. .

“The virus is not going to stop anytime soon,” he said. “You can catch the virus anywhere. “

Tammy Scorcia, President of the Alhambra Teachers Association, said that “everyone is nervous. … We all thought we were moving forward.

Her school system, she said, provided face covers and even protective gowns, but the test kits promised by the governor did not arrive in time for the resumption of classes.

State public health officials said Monday that only about half of the 6 million test kits promised to schools in California had been delivered. County officials said distribution of the state’s test kits was just beginning.

Those districts without their own stock were unlucky.

Other school systems have discussed what to do in the coming weeks.

The Burbank Unified School Board held an emergency meeting on Sunday – before deciding not to postpone Monday’s reopening.

Instead, officials are considering mandatory coronavirus testing for students and staff and demanding a vaccine booster for all employees by April 1. Officials also plan to release an update to the community on Friday with test results, providing parents and employees with contact details for those with questions. and concerns, meet with worker groups and update hiding policies.

Maria Castro, who gave her husband Lysol for Christmas instead of cologne, also wondered about the weeks ahead for her daughter at Long Beach Poly.

“Do you think classes will be canceled? Castro asked his 18-year-old daughter, Sophie Villegas.

“I didn’t hear anything,” Sophie replied.

Nearby at Whittier Elementary, Miriam Morillo recounted her son’s response to how he felt about going back to class.

“Good – and bad because I’m not protected,” he told her. “I can get infected from other children. ”

She told him to trust God and also signed him up for the shot on Friday.

Times editor Colleen Shalby contributed to this report.

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