January 24, 2022

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L.A. Unified orders COVID-19 testing before classes resume – Los Angeles Times

3 min read

Confronted with exploding infection rates, Los Angeles school officials have ordered students and staff to undergo mandatory coronavirus testing before returning to campus after winter break on Jan. 10.

The testing will make for an emergency, quick-turnaround strategy to identify cases before students and staff in the nation’s second-largest school district converge inside classrooms. The announcement was made hours after a hastily called special school board meeting Monday morning.

District testing sites will be open Saturday, although testing results also can be obtained from elsewhere.

Employees not already on duty this week would receive two hours’ pay to get the testing this week. If they wait till Monday — when they are back on the clock after winter break — they will receive any time off needed to be tested but no extra pay. School employees return to work Jan. 10. The students return on Jan. 11.

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“Keeping our schools safe is a top priority for Los Angeles Unified,” Interim Supt. Megan Reilly said in a letter sent to families and staff members. “We all have a role in keeping our schools safe. Thank you for doing your part. Your feedback and partnership are appreciated.”

The district’s plan won immediate support from the union that represents principals and other administrators.

“It’s based on science and it will help students return to school,” said Nery X. Paiz, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles.

The baseline testing would supplement ongoing efforts to test all students and staff every week — about 500,000 tests per week. The district is accepting a variety of testing options. Families may provide a PCR test or an antigen tests — either from a district testing site or from elsewhere. They also may use the results of at-home tests. But officials are asking families to have results uploaded into the district’s Daily Pass system by Sunday, Jan. 9.

The decision comes as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is spurring new infections at a record rate in Los Angeles County, estimated to be greater than at any point since the early months of the pandemic, data show. Every infected person in L.A. County is on average transmitting the virus to two other people, according to estimates from California’s COVID-19 computer models published Monday morning.

Hospitalizations and deaths have not kept pace with this rise because most county residents are vaccinated, according to local health officials, although serious complications can occur days or weeks after infection.

School districts throughout the county must follow new, tightened safety rules. All school employees at the 80 districts across the county must use medical grade protective masks while indoors on campus under new county guidelines released Friday. Schools, including private schools, and school systems have two weeks to comply after reopening.

At a morning online meeting with county public health Director Barbara Ferrer, senior school officials expressed concerns about having enough healthy staff to stay open, having enough rapid-result coronavirus tests and confusion about quickly evolving rules about who must isolate and quarantine and for how long.

Ferrer also told school leaders to brace for the worse surge yet, with perhaps 10% of students and staff testing positive at the start of school, according to those who were familiar with the contents of the briefing.

Other school systems also are discussing what actions to take as school reopen amid the surge.

The Burbank Unified school board on Sunday held an emergency meeting over a possible delay to the district reopening scheduled for Jan. 3. After what Supt. Matt Hill called a “robust discussion,” the board decided to reopen as scheduled.

At the same time, officials decided to consider such options as mandatory coronavirus testing for students and staff and requiring a vaccine booster for all employees by April 1. Officials also plan to post a Friday update to the community with testing results, provide parents and employees with contact information for those with questions and concerns, meet with labor groups and update masking policies.

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