It’s back-to-school season, and Los Angeles County officials, educators, health experts, and parents tuned in to a recent virtual town hall with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to discuss the county’s return to in-person learning on Aug. 16.
Last month, Los Angeles County reinstated an indoor face mask mandate for all residents regardless of vaccination status. Students attending in-person classrooms are expected to wear masks, and to practice physical distancing where possible.
Several parents who joined the town hall on Aug. 3 expressed concern for their younger children who are school age but not old enough to get vaccinated. The two-dose Pfizer vaccine is currently the only COVID-19 vaccine available for children 12 to 17 years of age.
Appearing at the town hall was Dr. Nava Yeganeh, a professor in the Division of Infectious Disease at the David Geffen School of Medicine who specializes in pediatrics.
Yeganeh outlined several safety measures students can take as they return to in-person learning.
“The first [step you can take] of course is to get them vaccinated if they’re vaccine eligible,” Yeganeh said.
The second item on Yeganeh’s list was ensuring that each student wears a well-fitting mask. Third, Yeganeh said, is “talking to your child about how they’re feeling each morning, and how to care for themselves at school.”
Some who commented on the town hall stream on social media called for an end to pandemic safety measures that do “nothing but disrupt education,” according to one Twitter user, in light of the fact that children only make up around 14 percent of overall COVID-19 cases and less than 4 percent of hospitalizations, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Meanwhile, the Orange County Board of Education (OCBE) voted on Aug. 3 to sue Newsom for his extension of the state mask mandate for K–12 students in the upcoming school year. Last year, the OC board sued Newsom for mandating virtual classrooms.
OCBE President Mari Barke told The Epoch Times that she thinks Newsom has exceeded his power in extending the state of emergency.
“Our goal is always to put the kids first. I think the majority of the board think that parents make the best decision for their kids,” Barke said. “If parents believe in masks, by all means, wear them, but if you don’t believe in masks, I think it should be an individual choice.”
The Los Angeles Department of Public Health didn’t respond to a request to comment by press deadline.
Dr. Robert Gilchick of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said each county has its own COVID-19 Prevention and Control Plan that includes regular COVID-19 testing for the unvaccinated, excluding symptomatic staff and students from campus, and protocol for notifying the school community of COVID-19 exposure, and safe activities for students.
Any member of the school community is required to report a positive COVID-19 test to the Public Health Department within one day. Unvaccinated people who were potentially exposed must quarantine and be excluded from the school for up to 10 days, though there may be a possibility of shortening that period with a negative COVID-19 test. Vaccinated individuals are required to get tested, but not required to leave school to quarantine.
In response to a question about why the county would choose to open schools as cases in the county rise, Los Angeles County Office of Education Superintendent Dr. Debra Duardo said schools have had very little spread of COVID-19.
“If we follow all the layering of strategies such as wearing our masks, hand washing, physical distancing and really encouraging everybody who can get to get vaccinated, we’re really confident that schools are safe places,” Duardo said.
“I think looking at the data and the evidence tells us that schools are probably the safest place students can be to prevent the spread of COVID,” she said.