Today, August 17, 2020, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner announced that health factors in the community still don't allow LAUSD to bring back the kids back to school. The level of new cases in Los Angeles are still 2 1/2 times the state guidelines, and while the portion of those testing positive is below state thresholds, it's still considerably higher than the World Health Organization standards and those in place for New York.
School will start a bit differently this year, he said, including the schedule. "In Simple terms, Monday is a day for teachers to plan and prepare. On Tuesday afternoon, all school principals will hold a meeting for the families and on Wednesday afternoon, students will have a chance to meet their teachers. Thursday and Friday are regular school days, which will start at 9 am."
He announced that in addition to appropriate health practices at schools, LAUSD will provide regular coronovirus testing for students and staff, as well as for family members of students and staff who test positive or show symptoms of the virus. Simply put, LAUSD can reduce the risk at schools by testing all at a school to isolate both symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers of the disease.
Any return to schools will include an appropriate set of health practices when conditions in the community allow for students to be at schools. Students and staff will be provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment including masks. Facilities and school schedules are being reconfigured to help all at schools maintain a safe distance apart. Students will stay in small cohorts, where possible. And facilitates will be kept clean and sanitized. Classrooms are sanitized from top to bottom every day with electrostatic cleaners and MERV-13 filters (the equivalent of an N-95 mask) are being used in air conditioning systems. "But this is not enough", he said.
A robust system of testing and contract tracing would be needed to make it possible to return to schools. LAUSD will begin testing for the virus when the new school year starts. They'll build this program in a measured fashion and will start by carefully fine tuning systems and operational logistics. Then tests will be provided to staff who are currently working at schools, as well as their children who are participating in the childcare provided for LAUSD staff.
Tests will then be provided for all staff and students over a period of weeks to establish a baseline. On an ongoing basis, sample testing based on epidemiological models will be done for each cohort of staff and students. Testing will also be provided to family members of students and staff who test positive for the virus and family members who show symptoms. This will help get students back to school as soon as possible while protecting the health and safety of all in the school community.
Any decision about the return of students to school is still some time away, he added. The launch of this effort now, however, will allow a program of testing and contact tracing to be built and made to operate seamlessly so it can provide a base of knowledge to help prepare for an eventual return to school campuses.
Several leading organizations are helping in this effort. SummerBios will be providing the volume of tests in a timely manner at a cost which makes this program feasible. Clinical Reference Laboratory, one of the largest privately held testing labs in the U.S. will provide in-cheek swab test kits for the youngest learners. Microsoft is providing the tools and the technologies to manage the work flows and make sure the information is shared appropriately.
Anthem Blue Cross will provide access to health-related date to better inform the testing and tracing program. Health Net will support a portion of the testing-related costs and will work to make sure every eligible family is enrolled in Medi-Cal or Covered California. They'll also provide support to route claims for students and staff with existing health coverage and explore sharing additional information about the health impact of the virus.
UCLA, the Johns Hopkins University and Stanford University will be providing scientific expertise to optimize the use of testing resources, as well as support to coordinate the information and help make it available to the other researchers.
For more information about Superintendent Austin Beutner's update on August 17, 2020 about schools reopening, please visit LAUSD's website.