On Friday, March 18, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced that it has reached an agreement with United Teachers of Los Angeles to end indoor mask mandates at all ETK-12th grade public schools (pending ratification by union membership) “no later than” this Wednesday, March 23. Aligning with LA County and state of California guidelines, however, masks will still be “strongly recommended,” and individuals are still encouraged to wear them.
“I strongly support ending the indoor mask requirement and am committed to continuing to uphold our science-based approach to COVID-19 safety and protocols,” LAUSD Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “I want to personally thank our students, employees and families for their support and patience. We know some in our school communities and offices will continue to wear masks, while others may not. Please consider your situation and do what is best for you or your child. Now that this important issue is behind us, it is time to focus on each student’s full academic potential.”
In addition to ending the school mask mandate, the District and UTLA agreed to maintain weekly testing requirements through the end of the school year, though further discussions about testing will take place in both mid-April and mid-May. LAUSD will also continue providing high-quality masks for its employees, and will send home rapid test kits with all students prior to spring break, so they can test at home before returning to school after the break.
The full text of the agreement can be found at https://achieve.lausd.net/Page/16700.
This Week’s Numbers
In her weekly address to the public on Thursday, March 17, LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer reported that case rates, hospitalizations, test positivity, and daily deaths from COVID-19 all continued to fall over the past week, which is good news.
In fact, Ferrer said, if current trends continue, LA County will finally move from its longtime “substantial” transmission level to the “moderate” tier by late March.
Also, with a new case rate of just 85 per 100,000 people over the last seven days (well below the CDC threshold of 200), as well as low numbers for both COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people and the percentage of staffed in-patient hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, we also remain in the CDC’s “low” Community Level this week.
In fact, Ferrer reported, the two hospital-related metrics are now close to where they were before our winter surge:
There’s also more good news on the early alert monitoring front. According to Ferrer, among seven items that could signal more trouble ahead, which are now being watched by LA County, we remain at “low” levels of concern in all categories – even schools, where only two new outbreaks were reported last week.
Ferrer also reported that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 now accounts for 100% of all cases in LA County, but an increasing number of Omicron subvariants are also now being tracked, including B.1.1.529, BA.1, BA1.1, and BA.2. The BA.2 variant, which is even more transmissible than the original Omicron strain, is growing quickly and is expected to become the dominant strain here soon, as it already has in other places.
In less positive news, though, Ferrer also reported that Europe is now seeing increasing case numbers again, possibly as a result of the BA.2 variant, and possibly also because of recent relaxations in mask requirements, and waning vaccine effectiveness. Ferrer said LA County is tracking the situation in Europe closely, because we often see similar patterns develop here after first appearing on that continent.
Meanwhile, in addition to tracking variants and trends both locally and elsewhere, Ferrer said LA County is also working on thirteen specific preparedness measures, focusing mostly on testing and COVID-19 treatments. And this week, LA County falls within the Adequate to Outstanding levels in all six categories involving testing and surveillance…
…and in four of seven categories for access to vaccines and therapeutics. The three categories where the County currently needs improvement, Ferrer said, are the percentage of homebound individuals who received their vaccines within two weeks of referral, the percentage of residents ages 12 and over in our most vulnerable communities who have had booster shots, and the number of sites in our most vulnerable communities where people can receive COVID-19 therapeutics. Ferrer said all of these will be areas of particular focus for the Health Department in the coming weeks.
As always, Ferrer reported that testing is still one of our most important tools for fighting the spread of COVID-19, and in particular she lauded the efforts of LAUSD, which quickly ramped up testing capacity at local schools last spring, and has maintained that level of effort and availability at nearly 100% of district schools ever since.
Moving forward, Ferrer recommended that all individuals continue to get tested if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, if they’ve been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, when coming out of COVID-19 quarantine or isolation, and as recommended by schools, workplaces, and other venues.
Though we no longer see as many testing pop-ups on street corners, Ferrer also reported that testing is still widely available through doctors’ offices and heath centers, pharmacies, schools, LA County test sites, and more. Home test kids are also still available commercially and through LA County. For more information on testing sites and programs, see:
Referrals to a doctor’s office or community health center: http://www.211la.org (or call 211)
Pharmacies offering testing: http://www.hhs.gov/coronavirus/community-based-testing-sites
LA County test sites: http://www.covid19.lacounty.gov/testing (or call 211)
LA County Home (PCR) Test Collection Program: http://www.covid19.lacounty.gove/testing/home-test-collection-program
LA County Pick Up (PCR) Testing Kit Program: http://www.covid19.lacounty.gov/testing/la-county-pick-up-testing-kit-program
Rapid antigen home test kits: http://www.covidtests.gov (or call 1-800-232-0233
Reporting testing scams or fraud: Bit.ly/DCBAHelp
More LA County testing information: http://www.ph.lacounty.gov/covidtests
Finally on Thursday, Ferrer also stressed the importance of continuing to keep employees safe in their workplaces. And while employers should still be following all state and county requirements, she said, they may also add any additional worksite safety measures they deem necessary. Employees and the public can also help, she said, by wearing well-fitting masks when in close contact with others, staying home and getting tested when sick, getting vaccinated and boosted if you’re not already, and following all safety rules at work sites, stores and events.