With local schools back in session this week, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health has deployed several dedicated teams to help educational institutions fight COVID-19 outbreaks.

While the teams help schools spot cases or implement safety protocols and the Department will start providing school specific outbreak information on its website soon.

“With so many school districts either opened or reopening at the end of this week or in the very near future, we do monitor school cases and outbreaks among staff, and students,” said Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “Additionally, we have several types of teams that are working in schools to ensure the safety of students and staff.”

The Department’s School Technical Assistance teams reach out proactively to schools throughout the county to help assess preventive readiness and advise on options for improvement. The Exposure Management teams follow up on cases reported by schools and help identify possible sources of infection, as well as close contacts, while also ensuring the schools provide appropriate isolation guidance to infected staff or students and their parents.

If more than one case is identified in a given school, an Educational Setting Outbreak team will work with the school to determine whether these cases are connected. If there’s evidence of contagion at a school site, the team takes over the investigation and it helps the school identify the steps it can take to reduce risk in the broader school community.

As part of their transparency efforts, Public Health will launch a new school specific online dashboard in September. The site will include color coded district maps that provide information on testing volume, community case rates and community vaccination rates.

The map will include school specific information such as positive case counts, details on outbreaks and the number of students at the school that are required to quarantine.

While the site is still under construction, Public Health will provide weekly reports on school cases.

Ferrer said that in a 24 hour period from 8 a.m. on Aug. 17 to 8 a.m. on Aug. 18, 118 new K – 12 cases were reported with the majority occurring at schools. Of the 112, 56 were individual cases while 11 were clusters of two or more.

“Our teams are working closely with these schools to ensure that positive cases are isolated and close contacts quarantined to reduce additional transmission at the schools,” she said.

Ferrer reiterated the importance of vaccines in fighting outbreaks.

“Given the importance of continuing our recovery journey, we need to act with a sense of urgency to reduce community transmission as quickly as possible. Layering on public health protections is sensible,” she said. “Right now, the people who need to be getting vaccinated are those 12 and over who haven’t yet received their first doses, and people who are due for their second.”

She said the mass testing about to begin in local school districts will increase overall case counts as the sheer number of people being tested will increase positive results but the system will also provide opportunities to gather huge amounts of data on the school populations that will help inform public safety recommendations going forward.

“I also want to note that all schools, private and public, will be required to have a testing program in place by, I believe it’s the middle of October, under a State mandate that requires that staff at schools either are able to verify their vaccination status, or they will be required to undergo weekly testing.”

Ferrer reiterated the importance of vaccination as the best tool to improve the overall outlook.

“If you have questions about the vaccines, or you want to get yourself and your family members vaccinated. I encourage you to visit our new revamped website at vaccinatelacounty.com,” she said. “There you can find resources about vaccination sites near you, including which sites are offering to vaccinate children, and you can also get information on vaccine myths and facts, access to all of the vaccination data, get answers to your frequently asked questions, or you can request to host a mobile vaccine clinic. We do want to make sure you get the information you need to make the right choice, that keeps you and your loved one safe.”

editor@smdp.com

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...