L.A. County schools see 30% decrease in COVID cases among children as testing, masking protocols implemented

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Dr. Smita Malhotra, left, Dr. Rosina Franco and Principal Josefina Flores go over COVID-19 safety measures at Euclid Avenue Elementary School in Boyle Heights in late July, 2021.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Dr. Smita Malhotra, left, Dr. Rosina Franco and Principal Josefina Flores go over COVID-19 safety measures at Euclid Avenue Elementary School in Boyle Heights in late July, 2021.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

COVID-19 cases among children in Los Angeles County have seen a 30% decrease, after testing, masking, infection control and outbreak management protocols were implemented when in-person classes resumed, officials announced Thursday.

The decline comes after a spike of COVID-19 cases was reported among all age groups of children between mid-July and mid-August.

Case rates have since declined over the past two weeks among all age groups under 18 years old which health officials attribute to COVID testing, masking and other safety measures, the county’s Department of Public Health said in a news release.

According to the department, children account for 27% of all coronavirus infections reported in L.A. County.

From Aug. 15 to Sept. 7, a total of 7,784 student cases and 1,250 staff cases were reported countywide, with a vast majority of the cases at L.A. Unified campuses, which tests everyone weekly, officials said.

On Thursday, L.A. Unified school board members approved a plan that would require all students 12 and older to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend classes in person.

“We support the actions taken by the Los Angeles Unified School District and other schools and school districts to add an additional layer of protection at schools through a sensible school vaccine requirement for eligible students,” said Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director.

The department emphasized the effectiveness of vaccines as over half of children between the ages of 12 to 17 are vaccinated. 

There are over 1.5 million students and 175,000 staff countywide, and 0.5% of the student body and 0.7% of staff have been infected since school districts reopened. This is slightly higher than the 0.4% rate of infection experienced overall in the county, according to the release. 

Many school sites are now reporting at least three or more cases of COVID-19, with 570 schools reporting one case and 260 schools reporting two cases.

“As these numbers are cumulative, it is not surprising to see cases accumulate in schools,” the release said.

Every case of COVID-19 identified at a school requires the person to isolate at home away from others for at least 10 days from their symptom onset or test date. Their close contacts are identified and, if they are unvaccinated, they are required to quarantine, the release stated.

With most outbreaks coming from elementary schools, the department investigated eight outbreaks during the week of Aug. 22 and another six were investigated last week.

Although the decrease in positive cases is a positive sign that COVID safety protocol efforts may be very effective at reducing transmission, the department says it anticipates an “upward trend in outbreaks as more schools are open.

On Thursday, the county reported a total of 49 new deaths and 2,218 new cases of COVID-19. 

Currently there are 1,385 people hospitalized with COVID-19 currently, with 30% of them in the ICU, a decrease of 288 daily hospitalizations in one week. 

“Vaccination remains one of the quickest and most powerful ways to decrease community transmission and prevent serious illness, which helps keep students, teachers, and staff in school, and the COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be safe and effective,” Ferrer said. 

In an effort to seek more information about COVID-19 and help educate others in their communities about COVID-19 on how to create safety at school and at home, the department encourages students and parents to join the Parent and Student Ambassador Programs. Those who sign up will receive free training from L.A. County educators on COVID-19, support for school-based activities and a certificate of completion at the end of the program. 

The department is also enrolling students for an upcoming student ambassador program orientation. More information, including on how to sign up for parents and students, can be found online or by emailing TK12ambassador@ph.lacounty.gov.

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