Elementary schools in Los Angeles County will be allowed to reopen for in-person learning starting Tuesday, after county health officials announced they expect to reach the state’s Covid-19 case threshold for reopening those campuses.
“The state permits elementary schools to reopen as soon as we reach an adjusted case rate of 25 per 100,000,” the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a news release on Monday. “We are informing Los Angeles County schools tonight via an emailed letter that we expect to announce we have reached this threshold effective Tuesday, February 16.”
County health officials say that while Covid-19 numbers are declining, “the virus is still very much present and circulating widely” across the county and they urged residents to remain cautious.
The announcement means dozens of elementary schools will be allowed to reopen as early as this week, officials added. Those that do want to reopen will have to submit plans to both the county public health department and the California public health department certifying they “have implemented a full range of safety measures to permit a safe reopening.”
“This is what we have been working towards,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a tweet on Monday. “Thank you to everyone who has worn your masks and kept your distance. Case rates in LA County are dropping.”
“Now we can continue the work getting our kids and teachers safely back in classrooms where they belong,” Hahn added.
The news came just hours after the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest public school system, announced the first vaccination site based at a Los Angeles school will open this week. The first doses will be offered to school staff ages 65 and older as well as employees who are working at Covid-19 testing and vaccination sites, “consistent with current public health rules,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said.
“Starting Wednesday, February 17, the Moderna vaccine will be administered by Los Angeles Unified school nurses and other licensed healthcare professionals at the Roybal Learning Center, becoming Los Angeles Unified’s first school-based vaccination center,” Beutner said. “Microsoft, Anthem and Cedars-Sinai are also helping in this effort. We’re working to open as many school-based sites as possible.”
The openings in Los Angeles are happening amid a national debate around what the safest path toward in-person instruction is, with many local officials at odds with school employees about a way forward.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released school reopening guidelines that focus on five key Covid-19 mitigation strategies: the universal and correct wearing of masks; physical distancing; washing hands; cleaning facilities and improving ventilation; and contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.
Vaccines and testing are “additional layers” of Covid-19 prevention, the agency said, and the CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told CNN earlier this week, “I’m a strong advocate of teachers receiving their vaccine, but we don’t believe it’s a prerequisite for schools to reopen.”
But other experts have argued teacher vaccinations are essential to returning to in-person instruction. So far, 28 states plus Washington, DC, have started allowing all or some teachers and school staff to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.